Does this religious right-winger look familiar?

Posted: Oct 08, 2002 12:00 AM
BLACKSTONE GLACIER, Alaska -- If you travel by boat to the end of Blackstone Bay, black rock cliffs striated with green moss will rise hundreds of feet above you, with waterfalls made partly of ice plummeting into the dark green water of the bay. You may be mesmerized by the glaciers, enormous expanses of black-streaked blue ice with long frozen tongues that lick the sea. And then, if you're traveling with an Alaska state representative like Capt. Fred Dyson, your thoughts will be turned back to politics. I thought of Dyson, a Christian conservative, while reading columns recently written by Gary Chapman, director of the "21st Century Project" at the University of Texas. Chapman evidently believes that "red meat conservatives" -- and Fred Dyson is one -- "want to wipe out any vestiges of liberal thinking that still show a pulse in this country." Again: "liberalism, for true and faithful conservatives today, is ... a traitorous philosophy and attitude that must be eradicated once and for all, like communism." Such generalizations are worth mentioning only because many liberals believe them. But talk about hysteria! The only statement in Chapman's overreach that may be true is this: "Conservatives of today terrify most liberals." It's certainly true that Dyson could terrify some weak-kneed passengers on his ship of state. He happily drives his boat, The Dawntreader, amid the little icebergs that calve off the Blackstone glacier, and laughs when they bang hard into the hull. And yet, Dyson is delicate in his legislative lobbying, talking with opponents so he understands their position well and knows when he can accommodate concerns and when he has to ram them like errant ice. Dyson, like many Christians, once was not. As a college student four decades ago, he was "a very skeptical, militant agnostic", who was "chasing a Christian gal in Houston. I saw her faith keeping her out of my bed, and wanted to sway her." But then he went with her to hear an evangelist "who spoke of God's love being unconditional. That interested me, because I had thought that God only loved good little boys, and I sure wasn't one. ... The next night, I stayed up reading through the New Testament, and passed from unbelief to belief." The convert had to overcome some obstacles. Dyson recalls that his college roommate "spent the next 18 months trying to destroy my faith. Once he told me to close my eyes, and then he dropped a naked girl in my lap and went out. I sat her on the couch and said: 'This won't work, honey. It's nothing about you.'" And in recent years, that is what Dyson has said to Alaska liberals: We can be friends, but we're not going to sleep together. Dyson's alliance-building has led to some good legislation. One successful bill he introduced removes from sexual predators the easy defense many used: saying they did not know that the victim was under age, or that the victim said she or he was of age. The new act requires perpetrators to show that they took some action to verify the victim's age. Another act requires people to report any attempted sexual penetration of a minor. The hope is that onlookers, instead of ignoring cries for help or even cheering evil from the sidelines, will come to the aid of a child under attack, or a teen suffering a gang rape. Dyson is one example of a common pattern: Most conservatives today are bicultural, with some understanding of both conservatism and liberalism, and most liberals are not. That's not because conservatives are smarter than liberals, but because most of America's media and academic leaders offer a liberal worldview. Conservatives can run from it but can't entirely hide, so they learn that liberals come in many different shapes and sizes. Liberals, without the benefit of such exposure to conservative views, miss seeing individual trees and tend to assume the existence of a vast right-wing forest. Before generalizing about conservatives who want to eradicate opponents, take a ride with Capt. Dyson.