I saw an unbelievable bumper sticker last night, and it got me thinking. Before I get too deep into this, let me make myself clear that I draw a distinction between religious people and RELIGIOUS people. There are those who go about their lives drawing upon their faith as a constant source of inspiration, comfort and moral guidance. They read their Bibles, Torahs, Qur’ans, whatever, and become better parents, role models and citizens as a result. They gain knowledge from their beliefs rather than fear, and they don’t necessarily take every word of their holy writ literally. Kudos to them, and I believe we as a society are enriched by their contributions.
And then there are the RELIGIOUS types. Those who believe that the Bible is inerrant, and every passage, chapter and verse, is to be taken literally… or else. These folks are best characterized as followers of Pat Robertson, the late (not so great) Jerry Falwell, etc. Most hold firmly to the precepts that the Universe was created in seven days, that mankind began 6,000 years ago from some spare blobs of clay, that homosexuality is a “sin,” science is for chumps – and a disbelief in any of the above is punishable by a sentence of eternal damnation, in a place that nobody can locate and this far, nobody’s ever provided proof of its existence. And yet; they continue to believe, and to push their agenda upon the next generation.
I have many friends in both camps. Far fewer in the latter, to be sure, but mostly because we clash on so many ideas other than religion… er, RELIGION. And this brings me to my point. I believe that this rigid form of conservative thinking is the same virus that has gripped our political process. The very people who refuse to take a hard look at Darwin’s theory, the geological record, paleontology, astrophysics, genetics, etc., are the same ones who refuse to scrutinize with an open mind the trend towards climate change. Social topics such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control, death with dignity, race, cultures and religions other than their own, etc. Most refuse to examine these topics *not* because they aren’t intellectually curious, but because they’ve been conditioned into believing outside-the-box, rational thinking is wrong, and potentially punishable by a sit-down with the guy with the pointy tail.
These are the people who’ve been holding America back. The core of the Tea Party. The heart and soul of the extremist arm of the so-called Patriot Movement. The demographic that keeps Fox News #1 in the ratings game. The people the president referred to as clinging to their guns, Bibles and antipathy towards others. (He was absolutely right about that, by the way.) They’ve made some serious inroads in pushing back against science and higher learning in so many places. Texas school books, for example. Or the “Creation Museum” in Kentucky, which if not for it being so frighteningly wrong on multiple levels, is really just a multi-million dollar sick joke being played on the next generation of Kentuckians.
The minds that refuse to think beyond what they’re told by their scripture of choice, are the same ones that reuse to think beyond what they’re told by Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity… The true revival preachers of our times. To believe that acceptance of anything other than what these charlatans preach in their daily televised meetings, is to risk not just political defeat, but hellfire and brimstone itself. And the confirmation of this message is the message itself, the bumper sticker on my neighbor’s SUV; “If Glenn Beck said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”
We look back upon the days of those old-fashioned revival tents as quaint relics of Americana; something we outgrew decades ago. But in reality, all they did was swap their tents for billion dollar cable networks, where they can reach millions, rather than a few dozen. Where they meld their message of fear and ignorance with a dose of über-conservative political dogma that the intellectually disinclined swallow whole, then line up for seconds. We have truly allowed ourselves to be steered into an era of unenlightenment.