Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing. – Nathan Poe
About 20 years ago I read an article by an Episcopalian priest in which he proposed that fundamentalism should actually be considered a religion in itself, and the various forms of it (Christian, Muslim, Marxist, feminist, etc) merely sects within that religion. It was one of those brilliant observations that immediately becomes part of one’s consciousness, and I’ve looked at fundamentalism exactly like that ever since because it makes total sense. Consider, for example, those who are mystified by fundamentalist Christians forming anti-sex alliances with neofeminists; once one recognizes that they are both merely different varieties of fundamentalism it’s no more confusing than, say, Methodist and Lutheran congregations getting together for some joint charitable enterprise. That being the case, it’s obvious that Poe’s Law, though first formulated with regard to Christian fundamentalists (specifically, creationists), works just as well with any other form of fundamentalism (or any form of extremism, for that matter). Furthermore, the law works just as well when reversed; any sincere statement of fundamentalist beliefs will sometimes be mistaken for a parody.
I recently came across an editorial (from Montgomery County, Maryland) which actually demonstrates both the corollary to Poe’s Law and the relativity of fundamentalism. Not only is it hard to tell from a parody (though context convinces me it isn’t one), it’s also impossible to tell which flavor of fundamentalism has rotted the author’s brain; it reads the same whether she’s an anti-sex Christian, an anti-sex Muslim, an anti-sex neofeminist, a typical control-freak Washington-type or something else:
No parent should be shocked that five high school football players hired prostitutes while on a road trip to North Carolina last week…thanks to smartphones and the nearly complete submersion of the sex trade into the digital swamp, ordering three prostitutes to your hotel room is as easy as ordering a pizza…The bold step of ordering up a prostitute on an iPhone often begins as early as middle school, when legions of boys start downloading porn…Now that the family computer and its Net Nanny aren’t the only way to get online, the access to porn and paid sex is in the palms of our children’s hands, 24-7…Mobile porn has become so prevalent among teens that there is even a nonprofit group, Fight the New Drug, and a micro-industry of treatment camps aimed at teens who have a crippling addiction to it. For teens ogling mobile porn regularly, the next logical step is to act out that fantasy and click on the many ads urging viewers to order up live sex.
As horrified parents, how do we stop this? The 18 chaperons on the trip…did bed checks at 1:30 and 4:30 a.m…[but] the…boys evaded the best efforts of their chaperons by placing their order at 5 a.m…The problem here isn’t only about limiting access. There are deeper lessons to address. The illegal purchase of sex, the fact that most American prostitution is a result of human trafficking and the reality that the plastic, bleached and enhanced world of online sex is a myth that twists ideas of human sexuality and relationships need to be discussed here. Parents cannot toss aside online porn as the equivalent of the curiosity they remember. Porn is everywhere…any child of any age with a Nook, a Kindle or an iPad can go from Word Search or Angry Birds to graphic, violent, degrading sex videos in just two clicks. And for older kids, not only are they awash in unrealistic, desensitizing images, but they are constantly being urged to take it to the next level, to go live. Families who don’t have uncomfortable but honest discussions about sex, porn and prostitution are putting kids at risk for some scary consequences…
Of course, it’s impossible for this author or others like her to have “honest” discussions with their kids or anyone else, because their heads are crammed full of so much disinformation about sex, porn and sex work that they couldn’t recognize the truth if it was stuck to their faces with cyanoacrylate. Just in this short rant we’ve got the myths that sex is corrupting, that adolescents are “innocent” and won’t want sex unless they are “urged” to, that a person can become “addicted” to porn, that law equals morality, that most prostitution involves the new bogeyman “human trafficking”, that porn magically causes cognitive disorders, that the majority of modern porn is “violent and degrading”, and probably a few more that I missed. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a parody; a very large fraction of Americans really believe in this sex-hating Puritan faith of which Christianity, the Republican and Democratic Parties, neofeminism and every other popular belief system are merely denominations.