An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America. In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.

This post was written last November, shortly after the election. It’s a long piece, but I think worth reading. It is what I have been thinking too, that we are not going about building our party the right way. As intelligent, educated people, we need to be exactly that. We can’t meet these people on their turf because it’s not where we will ever be and it’s not where we believe anyone in this country should be. It’s a bad place and it needs to change.

Are we wrong to not try to ‘get down’ with the people who don’t believe anything we say, no matter how we explain it? Surely we are accomplishing nothing. These are not people who will ever, under any circumstances, understand us. They believe what they believe because they believe it.

We can’t believe what they believe. It’s impossible. We need to go another way. To become what we should be: enlightened, intelligent people who will do what we do because we believe what we are doing is the right thing. Even if it doesn’t work out the way we’d like, we will continue to do our best because we believe in ourselves.

We aren’t going to fix the world by trying to be people we can not be. We can sympathize with them. We can appreciate their world-view. We just can’t be them.

And finally — if we can’t be ourselves, we are nothing. If we can’t be liberals, intelligent, thoughtful, mindful and willing to go out of our way to help people who are not us, then we will be powder and blown into the wind.

Photo Credit: / Shane Trotter

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete BS. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to draw attention away from the real problem.

The real problem isn’t East Coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is that rural Americans don’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is, in large part, because of the choices they’ve made and the horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

I grew up in rural Christian white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area of the country with a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on their rural farms. I dated their calico-skirted daughters. I camped, hunted and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure to a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a broken-down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves or the reasons for their anger and frustration.

In deep-red America, the white Christian god is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, or change. When you have a belief system built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t that coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans. The problem is that rural America doesn’t understand itself and will never listen to anyone outside its bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views will be automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they will not even entertain the possibility that it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact that I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

At some point during the discussion, they will say, “That’s your education talking,” derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response, because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are against quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to a certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief systems. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.

Another problem with rural Christian white Americans is they are racists. I’m not talking about white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists (though some are). I’m talking about people who deep down in their heart of hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white god made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed.  (MORE)



  1. I’ve read this article before — it over-generalizes in its way, but when he gets down to the bullet points he hits the nail on the head. My part of the country is ‘purple’ — half red/half blue and I mean in this impoverished rural area. I suspect that some of what this guy writes applies to the white fundamentalist and the wealthy rural fraction of our population. Where people chose to vote liberal, it was because they understood these points about themselves and their lives:

    -They get a tremendous amount of help from the government they complain does nothing for them. From the roads and utility grids they use to farm subsidies, crop insurance and commodities protections, they benefit greatly from government assistance.
    – The Farm Bill is one of the largest financial expenditures by the U.S. government. Without government assistance, their lives would be considerably worse.
    – They get the largest share of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

    The danger to a place like this (and other poor regions of America not all of which are poor white or poor black rust belt coal belt whatevers) is that government programs that employ people, provide health care to people, and make it possible for poor families to eat are going to be cut. Two of the biggest employers here are the BLM and the Natl. Forest Service. We can do a lot of things for each other (and we do) but we cannot do everything. We already have doctors who practice at rural clinics 3 out of 5 days/week for no pay and then appear at the clinics in bigger towns and hospitals for their salary. I think this is common in America, more than most people know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true around here, too. Some of the “free clinics” became bigger and stronger when Massachusetts got health care — before ACA by about five years. But we have a lot of free clinics, free food, free clothing. The churches do a lot of it which is why though i’m not churchy, i respect the churches. They do a lot of work in the region that no one else will do. When you live in a rural area, that’s the way it is. Little towns in the country don’t get big help, even when it is available.

      This post really did hit a bunch of nails on their heads for me. I didn’t read it before, but it slotted in nicely with what i already believed — that we will have to remain us. We have to be the people we are. There is no amount of convincing we can do to make those other people see our point of view. It isn’t going to happen. I don’t even have words to use that might help. I have ultimately realized that they aren’t going to understand anything I say. Ever.

      The horror of the current situation is that the people who are going to get the most deeply wounded by some of the awful stuff going on are those same people. They will fall first and hardest. It’s a wicked world.

      In the period BEFORE Mass health was around, I got help from major hospitals that took me apart and put me back together. For nothing. Not a penny. I understand getting help better than most people. If that had not happened, I would be dead.

      As for all the work that is going to disappear? No kidding. But we knew that. All those agencies employ people. Many people. I try not to think about it because it makes me feel awful on so many levels. However ugly, reality is. No matter what the assholes say in DC.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We can’t believe what they believe. It’s impossible. We need to go another way. To become what we should be: enlightened, intelligent people who will do what we do because we believe what we are doing is the right thing. Even if it doesn’t work out the way we’d like, we will continue to do our best because we believe in ourselves.

        It’s my belief that the people who are the subject of the article believe exactly what you wrote here, with 2 minor exceptions – they’d replace the last word with the word ‘ God’ .and intelligent (which they would see as human hubris and arrogance – a blasphemy that man knows better than God) with ‘obedience’ . The problem with that which i can see from my privileged position outside of the country is that the God they know is being MANipulated when it really should be they being GODipulated. They are doing what seems right to/by them and interpreting scripture to self-justify themselves rather than doing what Jesus is recorded as having said in their New Testament and giving up their own life to help others (LOVE God above all and love thy neighbour as thyself). They cling to their life, their ways, and it costs them dearly.

        I’d also point out that for the most part the economic and political situation currently, and for over a decade or more, facing the US is largely not of their making, but is down to the university educated corporate leaders – the 1%.

        If we are so smart how did we let it get to where we are now? We can’t make the same mistakes again as we did after 2007.

        P.S. My prayers for all being affected by Stella – stay safe!


        Liked by 1 person

  2. V. interesting article. Of course there may be some over-generalizations, but what stood out for me was the rigidity of fundamentalist thinking. It doesn’t matter what premise it is based on. I simply find it downright scary – of being confronted with a great big wall of zealous, self-congratulating unreason that appears to be based only on fear or hatred of certain classes of humanity.


    1. Those of us who can’t think that way will never be able to communicate with people whose thought processes are so different. I really thought we had come down a long and thoughtful road to a more inclusive concept of the world. I guess we did. They didn’t. And that is very worrisome.

      They aren’t the ONLY people who have gotten on the truck to perdition, though. That is even MORE worrying.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t help but think that we are in an enormous cycle, of political change, yet to be defined. When we look at “democracy” we tend to think of it as system that has matured and is complete. However, like everything else nothing is static and our present system is corrupt and missing the point for so many people.


  4. “White Christian God is king,” This concept always puzzles me. Does this mean that God has converted to Christianity? That he follows his supposed son.., rather than the other way round? And who says he is “white?” Or male? If, as it is suggested in the Bible, God made man in his image, he’s got a LOT of ‘splainin’ to do cause there is much variety among the appearance of man (as a genre) around this world. Also do these “Christians realize that they are worshipping a Jew, that Christ never stopped being a Jew, that he was only trying to enlighten his own people.., and things got out of hand?

    People, both inside and outside of his religion, began following him calling themselves Christians.., or maybe it was others who did so? And so, beyond this unfortunate turn of events, folks all over began to evoke his name as an excuse to perform all manner of outrages, ironically, against fellow Christians. Rural Christian America is a conundrum, selectively choosing which parts of the Bible to accept, but being cautious not to put down the parts they can’t quite absorb, or doesn’t meet their needs. Trump would be amiss to label the Bible as “Fake News,” but What’s Her Face could claim certain out of context passages as “Alternative Facts.” So there you have it.. IT?… WHAT?


Talk to me!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.