A Parallel “Reality”

One interesting thing about conservative Christianity in the US is the parallel social and cultural reality it has been able to sustain. There are Christian books, music acts, movies — a whole cultural world Christians try to keep pure of contamination by a corrupt secular environment. There are directories of Christian businesses for those who want to shop according to their moral values. There are megachurches that thrive on creating a Christian social and political bubble for the faithful to occupy.

Ordinarily, I would not be too concerned. Let them create a fantasy world and live in it — it would not bother me as long as it did not significantly interfere with things I care about. But that rarely happens. Inevitably, the parallel ideological reality competes for resources in the real world. And occasionally, the right-wing religious populists get ambitions of taking over the country.

Being an academic, the most direct way the parallel Christian reality bothers me are its alternative intellectual structures. Many [correction due to a comment by Humes's Ghost] right-wing Christians live in a world where global warming is a myth promoted by pagan environmentalists, where Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and where evolution is a mere materialist pseudoscience. And since no institution upholding any critical scholarly standards would accept such nonsense, they just do their usual thing: create parallel institutions. Since Christian rightists consider mainstream universities to be fatally compromised by liberal secularist ideology, they set up their own sources of “scholarship” that are guaranteed to confirm their alternative vision of reality. For “education,” you have conservative Christian pseudo-universities such as Liberty, Regent, and Patrick Henry, and a boatload of bible colleges and so forth. For “research,” you have think tanks, which have the extra advantage of direct political influence. For a Religious Right flavor of biology and physics, you have the Discovery Institute. For pseudo-social science, you have the Heritage Foundation.

But what has become scary is how, as the Religious Right has attained political power, this parallel intellectual universe is putting pressure on genuine intellectual institutions. The right-wing Christian constituency not only lives in a hermetically sealed parallel perception of reality, but they are determined to cleanse the rest of the country. So it’s no surprise that science has come under some serious assault during the Bush administration. And there’s more to come. The Religious Right is going after universities for being liberal, evolutionist bastions. More and more often, I’m beginning to see rhetoric such as the following:

I know why our country doesn’t lock up people who fantasize about a new holocaust on a scale that would dwarf all others in human history. We’re a republic that rightly defends intellectual freedom. What I don’t get is why our country–populated overwhelmingly by people who reject the materialistic, nihilistic vision propounded by Pianka and others–nevertheless sets up Ebola holocaust lovers and their nihilistic/materialist cohorts in tenured and taxpayer funded positions at our public universities, not roughly in proportion to their representation among our total population (about 10-12% of us) but in numbers so great that these materialists function as the ideological gatekeepers at these institutions? Maybe when enough socially conservative and moderate Republicans and Democrats begin asking that same question, something will change.

This is from a rant by Jonathan Witt on a Discovery Institute-linked intelligent design blog, where he accuses biologist Eric Pianka of advocating mass murder of most of the planet, and states that this sort of thing is just the logical consequence of evolutionist materialism.

Such lunatic (not to mention slanderous) rhetoric becoming commonplace is disturbing — it ratchets up the feeling of persecution among the faithful, legitimating any measure necessary to eliminate the threat posed by liberal secularists. And I feel particularly alarmed by how often it is the universities that are being set up as targets these days. I can’t be naive and say that those of us who are university faculty are always non-ideological, disinterested inquirers. Nevertheless, by and large, we do a good job. Probably precisely because we have our critical faculties intact, we are rarely favorable toward the ideologicaly-determined picture of the world favored by the Religious Right. They know The Truth, damn the evidence — and they’re now out to get those who disagree and thereby might be a political obstacle. They’re taking back the country for God, after all.

These are fascist attitudes. And the extent of the parallel reality set up by the Religious Right has to remind us of fascist practices in the past.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10407211641091145197 Shlomo

    Religion is socially acceptable mental illness. In our desire for a highly enlightened society, we accept an uneasy paradox. On one hand we encourage freedom of thought and, on the other, we must endure ideas that do not espouse that spirit of freedom.

    Now they have power and will, if not kept in check, destroy that very politic that permitted tham such liberties. Secularism must not sit its hands while science, humanism, and free thinking are being actively suppressed by religious zealots, even if only within the walls of their own institutions. Those people vote.

    I, for one, will never, even for the sake of politeness, remain silent in the face of religious nonsense. I truly and honesty do not give a shit how they feel about anything. Reality is all that concerns me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04523439604843353268 Hume’s Ghost

    I just wrote a post about about how extremist rhetoric has been creeping into mainstream political discourse, focusing on Ann Coulter. Its about how extremism gets repackaged and transmitted via the media for a mainstream audience.

    Coulter is a perfect example of this phenomena since her new book is basically recycled material that teh Religious Right has been claiming for at least the last 30 years.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08198887228833867342 Donn

    When people make such asinine comments like “religion is [a] socially acceptable mental illness” I merely yawn, and think to myself….what a load of bullshit!

    Also, secularism, by itself, has *never* given any society liberties in any sense of the word!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16647502883937766348 Cindy

    I have discovered a great use for the Xtian buisness directory. Now I know where NOT to shop!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00599380409806346273 blake b

    The core difference between the secular and the devoutly religious:

    The secular are constantly seeking truth through empirical, scientific evidence which supports our claims. We base our presumptions of the history of the Earth, the history of Life, and the nature of Being on research and facts which we are constantly looking for ways to support. The search for knowledge in the secular is forever ongoing.

    The devoutly religious are convinced that the truth has already shown itself. They believe that all the answers lie within their scriptures and doctrines, and that questioning their beliefs is blasphemous. They have little or no interest in science because they are convinced that the answers have already presented themselves and their “faith” is enough to keep them happy.

    Under which set of beliefs can a society best flourish: a populous who is constantly seeking answers grounded in reality and supported by science, or a populous who has no desire to further human knowledge and understanding, but, rather, to remain forever in their bubble of fabricated knowledge…?

    The ONLY thing a society should be concerned with is REALITY. What we can’t prove should hold no water in our decisions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10407211641091145197 Shlomo

    “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.”
    Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12648338473296940751 Hallq

    You forgot to mention pseudo-historians.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04699296428920303928 Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    a) Why call Heritage policy “pseudo-social science”? Heritage is generally market-oriented. In case you slept through it, command economies lost the cold war.
    b) The paranoia and over-heated rhetoric issue more from critics of Administration policy.
    c) The arguments for State (government, generally) subsidy of education are weak. The arguments for State (government, generally) operation of schools (K-PhD) are weaker still. Academics employed by “public” K-12 schools and State universities have a clear interest in socialist advocacy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07129438023413395689 Jennifer

    If you want to see pseudo-education, try homeschooling your kid with a xian curriculum. I have my 12-year-old son home and get loads of catalogs from religious (LDS, Protestant, Catholic) homeschooling marketers. The history alone makes you want to cry — the Pilgrims were led by God Himself to the shores of Massachusetts, Columbus acted because of Divine Providence and his barbaric treatment of the Indians is never mentioned. Apparently Jefferson and Franklin were xians too, even though their actual writings show they were not. The Mormon stuff is even crazier — the Constitution was divinely inspired and the American Indians are descended from Jews.

    It’s kind of lonely out here…


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