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About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

And Now for Something Totally Different

When I started this blog I intended to comment solely on matters of faith. Recently other issues have been on my mind, however. One of them is the state of the American mind, and of the educational system that is supposed to enrich, inform and enable it.

We’re a very smart people. We have the highest level of technological development on earth. Devices that would have seemed hopelessly complex to scientists and technicians a few decades ago are today considered archaic and useless. We launch shuttles into space, immerse ourselves in virtual gaming worlds, and converse with people thousands of miles away as casually as we talk to someone sitting beside us.

And we’re a very stupid people. We’re ignorant of basic facts about our history and our heritage. Many Americans have no idea how many houses of Congress there are, what the significance of the date 1776 is, or why we’re a republic instead of a democracy.

Our ignorance grows more abysmal when it comes to seperating valid arguments from pure BS. Consider the following:

“His opinion about the budget can’t be right. After all, he has a degree in history, not economics!”

“Does this pill really make you lose weight? Well, ask yourself: would millions of people be buying it if it didn’t?”

“Obama wants to tax the rich and give the money to the poor. That makes him a Socialist!”

“Conservatives like to talk about family values. So did Hitler. Doesn’t that make you suspicious?”

“Homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry. After all, look at what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“Studies show that every year since 1950 the number of children killed by guns has doubled.”

All of the above statements are seriously flawed. I don’t mean that they’re not true. I mean that they employ faulty logic that any person of average intelligence should be able to see through without trouble. In the case of the last one, what it says is simply impossible.

Yet how many times a day do we hear things like this said by politicians, salespeople, and pundits? That’s because there is something deep within us that prefers feelings to facts and wants to believe that our prejudicial attitudes and personal hatreds are morally justified. And there are very clever persons on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as advertisers, spin doctors, and opinion makers who earn very good money catering to this part of our nature.

Why does this fact worry me? Because I love my country, and because for it to remain free its people must be able to critically and intelligently examine the claims they hear, and decide what they believe based on facts and logic, not hearsay and hysteria. Furthermore, they must be able to listen to the opinions of those they disagree with in a civil fashion and consider what they say, instead of automatically assuming it’s wrong.

Without these abilities a representative government cannot properly function. And it is those very abilities that are not being nurtured in our society.

When was the last time you read a book or watched a program where multiple sides of an issue were presented, and you were left to make up your own mind which was right? Despite the claims of some to be “fair and balanced,” there simply is no market for that kind of presentation. Fox News and MSNBC sift their broadcasts through their chosen ideological filter.

Add to that the misinformation foisted on us by commercials and ads and the barrage of propaganda flowing from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Ann Coulter, and NPR. Almost never are we motivated to challenge our pet beliefs or engage in open dialogue with our ideological opponents.
When we do encounter those form the “other side,” the usual result is a shouting match marked by insults and fallacious reasoning.

Our society cannot be healthy so long as this is the order of the day.
Idiots can’t govern themselves. Those in power know this quite well, which, in my opinion, is why they make no attempt to encourage truly free thinking or civil, rational discourse between people with differing beliefs.

When I watch shows like “Meet the Press” I see a skilled liar from one political party matched against an equally skilled liar from the opposing party. They don’t answer questions, they evade them. I suspect that, deep inside, the important thing to both sides is keeping the people acting like sheep, even those in the opposing shepherd’s flock. The one thing that the monied interests fear above all is the American public demanding to be told the truth, whether it’s what they want to hear or not.

Jesus knew that we have these tendencies. That is why he was such a strong proponent of self-examination. We worry more about the speck in our brother’s eye than the wooden beam in our own. That’s because it’s always easier to point a finger than to look in the mirror.

Yet real, honest self-examination is a habit all of us need to cultivate. We need to challenge ourselves to justify our beliefs, our actions, and our motives. It is terrifyingly easy for human beings to wrap our worst instincts in robes of righteousness. Do you think that the people who burned the “witches” of Salem thought of themselves as murderers? Hardly. In their minds they were protecting their children and their community from a horrid menace. They were following the only course of action acceptable to decent people – or so they thought.

Fast forward from those times to the early 21st century, and what do you hear? “Those damn Republicans don’t care about the poor; that’s why they oppose social programs.” (Reality check: many conservatives are passionate about helping the less fortunate; they simply don’t think the government does a very good job of it).

Another common accusation: “Liberals don’t love this country like we real patriots do; that’s why they criticize it so much.” (Reality check: most people who are left of center do love America, and it is that love that leads them to criticize its faults, in the hope of making it a better nation).

Our enemies aren’t those we disagree with. The ones we should fear are those who profit from keeping us pitted against each other, who spoon feed us selected facts that reinforce what we already believe, and who encourage us to think of the other side as morons, traitors, bigots, or fascists.

Consider these book titles: “Stupid White Men, and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation;” and “Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government.” Each is authored by a man who is so convinced he is right that he feels free to demean and demonize those with whom he disagrees. And both men have grown filthy rich off of whipping up the fears and prejudices of their particular followers.

In my humble effort to combat their influence, I want to recommend a couple of books myself. Below are their Amazon links:

Here’s one.

And here’s the other.

Yes, I know I’m pimping for a megabucks corporation by referring you to Amazon. If you like, buy the books from another source. Or check them out at the library. What matters to me is that both be read by as many people as possible.

I’d also like to encourage anyone reading this to commit to critically thinking about EVERYTHING you read or hear, including this blog. Season your faith with a healthy dose of skepticism and your trust with an urge to verify. You, this country, and the world will all be better places for the effort. Peace.

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