I recently had an aggravating conversation with a FOX Junkie. You probably know someone just like him: a typical Republican white guy: poor, Christian, authoritarian, closet racist. The topics of discussion took the usual talking point tour from Obamacare to abortion to joblessness to socialism to welfare mothers. His opinions on all but abortion were lock step with the Republican party line. (He grudgingly agrees that women ought to be able to choose to do the “horrible thing” and have an abortion.)
Through the course of the discussion, I had to stop my interlocutor many times. He kept using words that he clearly didn’t understand. Rather than let him continue, I asked him if he knew the definitions. When I pressed him, he was unable to offer even a high school civics definition for any of these words:
In fact, he declared that socialism and fascism are the same thing. (They are most certainly not!) He averred that Obama is a far left wing socialist, and one of the most liberal presidents ever. When I voiced concern over the rules governing corporations like Walmart, he accused me of hating capitalism.
In short, he and I couldn’t have a meaningful conversation because we weren’t speaking the same language. Even though we were using the same words, we were discussing radically different notions. My sentences sounded like nonsense to him because I was using the correct definitions — not the FOX party line.
On reflection, I realize that I have had the exact same conversation with many Christians, substituting words like “evolution” for words like “socialism.” The same kind of proud ignorance displayed by the Republican rank and file is routinely praised in churches all over America. Work-a-day Joe Plumbers are more than happy to take the podium preaching the evil conspiracy of evolution even though they couldn’t hope to explain the difference between meiosis and mitosis. They denounce abiogenesis based on something they read about the Big Bang. They defend the soul because they heard something about Quantum Mechanics that sounds like dualism.
Whether we are fighting the battle for progressive values in politics or a scientific evaluation of existence, we are fighting against profound and desperate ignorance. In many cases, we are unable to even conduct a dialog since the language of the educated is so radically different from that of the ignorant. Many debates grind to a halt when the progressive atheist realizes the impossibility of teaching a first year college course to a hostile audience in the five minutes allotted for rebuttal.
Whether the strategy was intentional or not, the Republican Christian Right has done a bang-up job on the American public. In 2011, Michele Bachmann — a candidate for president — was challenged to a debate on basic Constitutional knowledge… by a high school sophomore. Bachmann also displayed complete ignorance of even the basics of evolution — a concept every high school student should understand. This year, legislators have upped the ante by effectively declaring the acquisition of knowledge to be an enemy of government. The continuing assault on basic rights for homosexuals displays inexcusable ignorance of the science of homosexuality.
The confluence of political and scientific ignorance has created a “perfect storm.” Far Right Christians, ignorant of basic science — and proud of their blind faith — are willing to jump on the Republican bandwagon, no matter where it’s going. They’re happy to place the same blind faith in their political leaders as they do in Jesus. They listen to preachers in church, and then they listen to preachers on FOX. They are actively being misled, and do worse on basic world events knowledge than those who watch no news at all. But it doesn’t matter, because Jesus has chosen the Republican Party to be his flag bearer, and that is the only knowledge a good patriot needs.
In both politics and religion, we as a nation have decided that bumper stickers are adequate conveyors of truth. Simple answers are better than complex ones. Black and white is preferable to bi-partisan shades of compromising gray. We have done this while taking an active disinterest in learning for ourselves and holding our public figures accountable for their lies.
It is not too late, though. Non-belief is the fastest growing religious opinion in America. Secular and atheist organizations have begun wide-scale advertising, despite vandalism on an almost unprecedented scale. Popular public figures like Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert regularly expose and criticize FOX News while calling attention to the objective facts. MSNBC’s audience is growing, while FOX is losing viewers. If we remain persistent, we will continue to change minds.
Even so, we have a long way to go. The enemies of knowledge and reason have hundreds of millions of dollars available at the drop of any hat. They have the overwhelming majority of mainstream media. They have the political favoritism of the Republican Party. On paper, they are a juggernaut. In practice, they are vulnerable, but only if we, the educated rationalists, continually and unrepentantly expose their lies. We are the last hope for an America that can move towards rejoining the rest of the First World. With critical Congressional elections approaching in 2014, we must redouble our efforts to expose lies, educate our peers, and send the clear message that we will not be dragged under by the rising tide of willful ignorance.