Mar 26, 2008

America's Age of Unreason: When Matters of Faith Dominate the Social Discourse

Updated, 3/30/08, below

Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle!

When it comes to US politics, religion plays a big part, and, I guess, no one could be elected to a high office [well, maybe outside NYC, San Fransisco, etc] unless they profess their strong religiosity. Perhaps, it's not smart for me to start such a topic now, because this election should not be fought on who's a believer, i.e., who's on the side of the Christian God. Such a case would be a distraction at best. Seriously, unless the currency of understanding is reason & evidence, then not much can be discussed or minds changed.

Elections are not about educating the public on issues already decided in their minds. For, example, if you're convinced we're living in the end of times, with rapture around the corner, a political campaign isn't the appropriate time to talk you out of such a belief. Campaigns may inform on certain policy issues, but mainly they are a battle of ideas, of framing of the issues, and a candidate's personality & character. Rarely do they change any preconceived notions people have already formed based on an emotional decision.

I'm sure you know people who have an emotional reaction to an issue, thus forming an opinion, and then they look for any scraps of reason to support their view. The process of arriving at a decision is not important as much as how they feel about something. The scientific method & inquiry is the reverse of that. Here the process rules over the conclusions--which they follow based on evidence and reason. I'm in favor of such an approach to understanding the world around me, hence, my affinity for science & rational thinking.

However, there's a greater issue here about our national obsession with religion, and whether religious beliefs should guide our political actions. What happens in the US is actually the reverse than in most western European countries--where religion is mostly a private matter. Over there, atheists-agnostics actually are preferable to those who wear religion on their sleeves! Europeans think that an atheist/agnostic has no religious agenda to push and more likely to get on with the business at hand, for the state and the commonwealth. What a concept!

Often, many changes start slowly with a few voices, but it's important to stand up and be counted. I'm talking about maintaining a secular state here, not abolishing religion, but to stop the kind that wants to shove their brand down our throat. Yet, how can you deny that it is religion(s) that drive ignorance and
intolerance? No, not all religious people are like that, but their most extremist elements are in control overall. If nothing else, their rhetoric reveals their prejudice & ignorance. How much of the world's suffering today (and for most of human history) is not "reasoned" by, promoted by, and spread through religious dogma?...

In the US, several states have an anti-science stance today! Why is it so? Is it because the facts aren't available? Is it because science hasn't given us answers? Why is there such a dumbing down? Is truthiness (how we feel about issues) our best way to understand? I recommend Susan Jacoby's latest book, Age of American Unreason as necessary reading on this topic.

I'm talking about teaching our kids science--you know, those theories that are based on facts not wishful thinking or on any hypothesis not supported by reason or evidence!

One in three Americans considers themselves "born-again" Christian fundamentalist, many believing in eschatology (the world is coming to an end soon).... I don't know if you realize it, but when the majority of Americans believe that, for sure (or think it's a good probability), Jesus will return in their lifetimes it has an impact on our politics! When so many people believe the world is going to end with Armageddon, does it not influence what we plan for the future? Heck, we have to look ahead--what the next several generations of our children and their children will inherit from us. The environment, energy needs, human health, the conditions for sustainable living, etc., are all very important. And, the window of opportunity to avert disaster is closing.

In a free society everybody can say & belief whatever he wants. But, it is frustrating to see so much ignorance and prejudice in this 21st century. Perhaps we are still very primitive in our thinking and behavior. On many levels, humanity does not live in or experience the same universal age. The less we know (or want to know) the more conservative we are.... We tend to conserve ideas, beliefs, culture, behaviors--even if they're impractical or outright primitive--when we don't know how to deal with change, especially the rapid changes of modernity. The sense of identity an individual has is extremely important.... and, it's has a personal definition. The more secure and confident a person, the more likely to think about change!

So, maybe we have our answer to this: How come people don't leave their congregation when their religious leaders make incredible claims? Or, that God is so angry & vengeful that he destroys everything in order to punish sinners and several of his faithful alike? Why the Falwells, Robertsons, Dobsons, Hagees, and all the others who preach hate and stupidity still remain relevant in an advanced society like ours? Well, they're relevant because they have millions of blind followers behind them! Their coffers bulged from donations when they pronounced that God punished New Yorkers on 9-11, New Orleans with Katrina, etc, etc.... Absurd, yes, but it's normal that people hold contradictory ideas in their head.

You've heard already about the comments Obama's pastor made and the hoopla that ensued. What's the problem here? Rev. Wright didn't say anything remotely worse than what those bigots I mentioned above have been saying all along. [see sidebar on the Hagee endorsement of Sen. McCain and the latter's elation for such!] Obama handled the situation well enough. Here's a good article by linguist & activist George Lakoff on this. Here's Wright's comments: video

The problem is with those people who are so convinced that they know the mind of God--what he wants and stuff--and are ..hell-bent in killing others in his name! It's rather unsettling to me that the religious fanatics here have so much influence on public policy--in a very negative way.

America and those successful countries where humans have achieved liberty and a higher standard of living owe their success largely on the conditions and the socio-econo-political environment. The three "Tees" are necessary: Tolerance, Talent, and Technology. Now assuming these are good things to have and maintain, the question is, what are we doing about protecting and enhancing those conditions that made us great? Or, are we so weak to buckle when we face the various crises and give up those conditions that made us great?

Think of the present--what's going on in our country--and of the future, where we're headed, where our children will be. Then watch this video. Hopefully, if you haven't done already, you'll stand up and oppose ignorance and intolerance!

UPDATE, 3/30/08

If there was a choice between Xenu, or those who support sacrificing young virgins to the sun god, and Sen. McCain, I'd choose the latter. But, to my relief, there are much better choices this year. Of course, this election is about the direction of the country. I'm a progressive liberal, and my the choices I make reflect what's pragmatic and what party, or politician comes closer to my beliefs.

Pragmatism, scientific approach (instead of voodoo), are some of the qualities I'm looking for in a US president. I understand that before someone wins the nomination and even the general election they have to say things they don't believe, especially in the case of religion. But, what do you make of the following?

* McCain supports Bush's policy: preach abstinence only; no other methods of contraception and/or counseling. [NYT, March 16, 08]. He takes advise from Dr. Coburn--the Rep. Senator from OK--who advocates the death penalty for women and doctors involved in any abortion under any circumstances! And, thus, McCain supports the stupid policies that don't work regarding sexually-transmitted diseases. Like saying in Africa, AIDS is bad, but condoms are worse!

* McCain is happy to have the endorsement and support of Rev. Hagee. [check this video]

* McCain wants to take America back to the 16th century. [Is this video evidence of his major flip-flop?]