“419,000” Followers: For This

Evidently this tweet is not a joke. This individual is seemingly serious. There is nothing like “social media”:

[Screen capture of Twitter.]

When I saw that retweeted into my timeline the other day, what was my reaction?

I could only think… here’s another idea: read a history book.

I had never before heard of that person. He currently characterizes himself in his Twitter profile this way:

Donald Trump / Russia, Business, Internet Law, Politics, Investing, Bitcoin

There is also a link to his web broadcasts site. He has “419,000” Twitter followers; and he also follows some “409,000” people. How does one actually follow “409,000” people on Twitter? Seriously.

Apparently he is also no fan of the current US president, which hardly makes him unique on Twitter. The grounding for his non-Bitcoin, non-Investing, religious liberty expertise is not immediately clear either. But one doesn’t require a post-graduate degree in politics to offer political opinions, of course: he has an absolute right – as does anyone – to spout as he chooses on the internet.

And all those people are naturally free to “follow” him and any others like him. Seeing that tweet, I thought it sadly representative of our too often vapid intellectual times. It led me to recall the many excellent historians and political scientists – many now deceased – I have known who labored largely in obscurity researching and writing scholarly articles on governance that perhaps “100 people” eventually read, or academic treatises which I suspect probably sold some “200 copies.”

In comparison, a single tweet like that one? It attracts tens of thousands of eyeballs and โ€œlikes.”

Let me for a moment once more put on my own former university politics lecturer hat (but I will keep it brief).

We avoid taxing โ€œfaithโ€ institutions in the US for two core historical reasons: 1) to create a separation of the state from intervening in faith so as to preserve civil peace; and 2) in order to encourage as broad a level of support for our secular – meaning non-religious – government as we can reasonably manage. For much the same reasons we demand the opposite as well: that “faith” be essentially separated from the operations of the “state.”

The authors of the US Constitution knew of the horrific religious wars in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those butcheriesโ€™ legacy meant matters remained tense between “state” and “faith” even in their late 1780s. However, since then the US, and other democracies worldwide, have been working at finding increasingly better ways – albeit, yes, imperfectly and not always wholly consistently – to “get along” in terms of “faith” and “state,” and compared to that terrible past we are now doing pretty well.

If you have never before thought about this issue, this which appears in Smithsonian Magazine is worth a read:

From its narrow Protestant beginnings the US is now probably the most religiously pluralist AND peaceful country in the world. A synagogue, a Baptist church, an Episcopal church, and a Roman Catholic church, and other religious houses that in this century now also include mosques, and Sikh temples, may be friendly neighbors. We live in an era of fellow citizens of a myriad of different faiths all worshiping peacefully in their own ways – which is no small achievement given the past (and what we see currently elsewheres in the world), and it is due in large part to government being made to steer clear of interfering in faith.

And yet some dimwits on Twitter (and in other media) actually appear to want to put that “state”-“faith” harmony at risk. For make no mistake: state taxation of faith is a serious intrusion into faith; for the authority to tax also becomes the authority, if necessary, for the state to use violence to collect that tax. And โ€œstate”-“faith” violence is precisely what had been the HUGE problem for centuries, and which we have now mostly (thankfully) consigned to history.

However, if we wish to, well, we can certainly do our best to re-ignite the religious strife of, say, Europe’s 1500s-1700s: Henry VIII sacking monasteries to increase teacher pay to fill his treasury; the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation assailing Protestants; French (often atheist) revolutionaries guillotining or drowning Catholic nuns who refused to pledge subservience to the new secular state; Jews hounded from country to country. And all of that just for happy starters.

[Sign for St. Joseph’s Chapel, on Route 23, Ashland, Catskills, New York. The first place of worship in the area for Roman Catholics. Built by Irish immigrants around 1800, the tiny actual building seats about 30 people. Photo by me, 2016.]

Imagine how it will look as the first ministers, priests, imams, and rabbis in the US are hauled away at gunpoint for non-payment of income taxes, and as churches, synagogues, and mosques are seized by sheriffs and heavily armed deputies for non-payment of property taxes, and what millions in their โ€œflocksโ€ might then begin to think of โ€œour state.โ€ Yep, why not work to get the ball rolling once more back to โ€œthe good old daysโ€ of “state” vs “faith(s)” battling for supremacy? Wouldn’t that be just peachy keen fun?

Because teachers (some guy tweets) should have a pay raise.

That sound you hear is me bashing my head down on my desk repeatedly. Whatever he may consider himself – Democrat, Republican, progressive, or doorknob – that dopey tweet is a perfect illustration of why we are where we are now politically. It’s as numb-headed as many a thing the current president has tweeted.

At some point we stopped giving greater respect and even deference to the views of those who actually know things, who devote their careers to exploring what has been, who research deeply and share with us why we are what we are… and instead we cheer and applaud (and retweet as endorsement) those of no especial expertise who offer up glib s-it lines like that. Indeed that tweet self-evidently in a way also demonstrates it does seem some teachers are failing and we do need some better paid ones: if his knowledge is any indicator, they are NOT teaching students nearly enough history if they graduate high school thinking taxing “faith” is as innocuous “an idea” as raising tolls on bridges or increasing sales tax a “1/4” percent.

[George Washington’s grave at his home, Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Photo by me, 2011.]

What we enjoy compared to our ancestors, and yet so many seem to have no clue… as if our generally calm “faith”-“state” understanding has been bequeathed to us, by, uh, God. Even if some on Twitter don’t like it, I suspect most Americans prefer our religious peace which we have had for a couple of hundred years thanks to our working to keep “state” out of “faith.” If need be, we can find a means to give some teachers a pay rise another way.

But much like my now late graduate advisor in political science, I don’t have “419,000” Twitter followers either.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. ๐Ÿ™‚

2 replies »

    • Oh, thank you very much. I have to say seeing one of your post-operation posts pop up for me on a day I had been feeling a bit down, sure lifted my spirits. I had no right not to be smiling! God bless you and your family and please have my best wishes and prayers for your full recovery.

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