I don’t understand willful ignorance

I recently read an interesting post on the Slactivist regarding the current debates about and ignorance of contraception:

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. . . . provides a classic example of how deliberate, defensive ignorance works. Confronted with facts correcting his preferred misapprehension, he doesn’t just challenge those facts — Murphy challenges the possibility of any facts at all. Murphy denies that there is any such thing as objective reality — only competing religious assertions:

SEBELIUS: There also is no abortifacient drug that is part of the FDA-approved contraception. What the rule for preventive care …

MURPHY: Ma’am that is not true. … Is the morning after pill or something like that an abortifacient drug?

SEBELIUS: It is a contraceptive drug, not an abortifacient. It does not interfere with a pregnancy. If the morning pill were taken, and a female were pregnant, the pregnancy is not interrupted. That’s the definition of abortifacient.

MURPHY: Ma’am that is your interpretation, and I appreciate that’s your interpretation.

SEBELIUS: That’s what the scientists and doctors …

MURPHY: We’re not talking about scientists! Ma’am we’re not talking about scientists here, we’re talking about religious belief.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defines “abortifacient” as having the effect of interrupting a pregnancy. Murphy doesn’t like that definition. Why? Because he desperately wants to believe that hormonal contraception is a baby-killing abortion drug that he can thus condemn loose women for using. So Murphy redefines the word “abortifacient” to mean, roughly, whatever “religious” believers want to pretend it means.

It’s not a coincidence that Murphy’s views on contraception precisely parallel his party’s views on climate change. You think carbon traps heat? “That’s your interpretation. But we’re not talking about scientists here, we’re talking about religious belief.”

Even when I was an evangelical, I believed in facts. I did think the birth control pill was an abortifacient, but I believed that because I honestly thought that’s what the facts showed. Had I taken the time to examine the facts – and done so without privileging biased sources – I would have changed my view. I say that because that’s what happened when I honestly examined creationism in college.

I understand holding an incorrect belief because you trust bad sources. That’s why my parents believe the pill is an abortifacient. What I don’t understand is saying the facts are irrelevant and that all that matters is what you believe about an issue. I never would have said that, even at my most devout.

Your thoughts? Is there something going on here that I’m missing?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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