Links and Comments: Audiences Cheering and Egging Them On; Christian persecution and criminalization; Why people doubt science

It’s been widely observed that the Internet has allowed like-minded people of all stripes to find each other, create online communities, and reinforce each others opinions and prejudices, in increasingly specific bubbles of interests and ideologies. But the visibility of the internet makes these communities visible to outsiders. Thus the new visibility, to me in the past couple years, of right-wing, fundamentalist ideologues preaching to their followers about the evils of gays and their [our] complicity in the downfall of western civilization. Who knew?

I admit I don’t look at such sites directly — I see selected excerpts from them on edited sites like Right Wing Watch, which I find gruesomely fascinating for endlessly exposing the vitriol of conservative/reactionary/fundamentalist pundits and politicians who are forever (among other topics) demonizing gay people, blaming them for every possible circumstance they disapprove of, and predicting their complicity in the very end of western civilization, if not the world. (Virtually every post could be countered with my Jack Smith Rule. They predict evil consequences; the rule says, no this will not happen.)

In contrast — it’s nice to see some of these folks called out in a much more general venue, as columnist Frank Bruni did in last Sunday’s New York Times, Do Gays Unsettle You? Same-Sex Marriage, Republican Scorn and Unfinished Work. He addresses the progress of marriage equality in contrast to continued Republican animus. (Of course I realize that all the followers of those right wing sites are not likely to be reading the New York Times. Still.)


And a politician who says awful, hateful things about gays and lesbians can still find a warm enough reception and plenty of traction in one of our two major political parties. The Republican winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012, Rick Santorum, has said that the marriage of two men or two women is no more like the marriage of a man and a woman than a tree is like a car or a cup of tea is like a basketball. He has also lumped homosexuality together with incest.

So has Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2008. Both are poised to run for the presidency again, in a field potentially including Ben Carson, who has mentioned homosexuality and bestiality in the same breath, and Ted Cruz, who urges ardent prayer against what he considers the society-threatening outrage of two men or two women tying the knot.

I don’t expect any of them to win the nomination, partly because their particular, pronounced degree of closed-mindedness won’t wash with the number of Americans whose favor they need. Hurray for that.

But I expect that on their way to defeat they’ll turn us gays into punch lines and punching bags. I expect that I’ll hear and watch large audiences cheer and egg them on. It’s a sickening spectacle, if you pay it any heed.

Related: here’s Mike Huckabee, explaining why My Point In Running For President Is To Fight Secular Atheism.

Christian feel themselves so persecuted, even though they remain the largest religious affiliation in the US.

Has anyone ever announced an intention to run for office in order to “to fight Christian privilege”?? No, of course not.

Meanwhile, Right Wing Watch has a related item from a couple days ago about an upcoming anti-gay documentary produced by activist Janet Porter called… “Light Win: How To Overcome The Criminalization Of Christianity”. Increasingly the idea that everyone is equal before the law means that religion, or at least Christianity, will be criminalized, to these people.

Which people? Participants in the documentary include Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, David Barton, Phyllis Schalfly, Scott Lively, Louie Gohmert, and others. The usual suspects. I’m surprised Rick Santorum isn’t among them.

On a not unrelated note, a trenchant essay in Salon yesterday by Jeffrey Tayler, a contributing editor to The Atlantic, called It’s time to fight religion: Toxic drivel, useful media idiots, and the real story about faith and violence.

It takes to task the numerous religious apologists who excuse religion as a source of violence, no matter how explicitly terrorists like the Charlie Hebdo attackers announce their motivations. Tayler cites specific examples (of apologists, like Reza Aslan), and then generalizes about how society still defers to religious leaders…

We are accustomed to reflexively deferring to “men of the cloth,” be they rabbis and priests or pastors and imams. In this we err, and err gravely. Those whose profession it is to spread misogynistic morals, debilitating sexual guilt, a hocus-pocus cosmogony, and tales of an enticing afterlife for which far too many are willing to die or kill, deserve the exact same “respect” we accord to shamans and sorcerers, alchemists and quacksalvers. Out of misguided notions of “tolerance,” we avert our critical gaze from the blatant absurdities — parting seas, spontaneously igniting shrubbery, foodstuffs raining from the sky, virgin parturitions, garrulous slithering reptiles, airborne ungulates — proliferating throughout their “holy books.” We suffer, in the age of space travel, quantum theory and DNA decoding, the ridiculous superstitious notion of “holy books.” And we countenance the nonsense term “Islamophobia,” banishing those who forthrightly voice their disagreements with the seventh-century faith to the land of bigots and racists; indeed, the portmanteau vogue word’s second component connotes something just short of mental illness.

Then there is SFGate blogger Mark Morford, whose take on E.O. Wilson’s recent interview in New Scientist (and his book The Meaning of Human Existence, which I blogged about), is appropriate to this theme. Morford:

It’s no secret that nearly all religions of the world were designed to, if not completely deny, certainly belittle ideas of conscious, sustainable growth and scientific understanding in favor of blindly believing we are the “chosen ones,” that we have a special, divine allowance to breed at will and abuse the planet as we please. Pestilence? Shortages? Overpopulation? 1,000 times the natural extinction rate? Climate change? “Don’t worry,” power-hungry religious leaders say, “there’s a ‘master plan’ somewhere. Surely ‘God has a reason’ to which puny, flawed humans cannot possibly be privy.” Right.

Religion as the abjuration of responsibility to one’s descendents, and environment.

On a broader topic, Joel Achenbach at National Geographic asks Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?.

Topics include ‘naive’ beliefs, those notions that are common-sensical and intuitive but wrong — and which take some intellectual effort (via math, or science) to correct. Our tendency to see patterns where there are none. Our vulnerability to confirmation bias and herd thinking. Why journalism, and story-telling, misleads about the process of science —

The news media give abundant attention to such mavericks, naysayers, professional controversialists, and table thumpers. The media would also have you believe that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that it usually advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years. So it has been with the consensus on climate change. That’s not about to go poof with the next thermometer reading.


Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”

And the way the Internet proliferates all ideas, whether justified or crazy — bringing us back to the opening of this post.

The scientific method doesn’t come naturally — but if you think about it, neither does democracy. For most of human history neither existed. We went around killing each other to get on a throne, praying to a rain god, and for better and much worse, doing things pretty much as our ancestors did.

Now we have incredibly rapid change, and it’s scary sometimes.

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