Things That Are Not True, and Immorality

Catching up on interesting items from the past few days, about the Christian right’s embrace of a “lying libertine,” how faith healers who kill their children get away with it in some states, how Republicans who lose elections react to the point to shooting up Democrats, the need to find a villain behind COVID, and the mature idea of being able to change one’s mind based on changing evidence. All, today, filtered through Michael Shermer’s notion that false beliefs about the world lead to immorality.

Salon, Heather Digby Parton, 20 Jan 2023: Donald Trump is smothering the religious right, subtitled “Nothing has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right more than its ecstatic embrace of a lying libertine”

The subtitle is exactly what I’ve been thinking for years.

Also, it’s useful using the main points of the Michael Shermer book I just reviewed her, against our current situation. Look at how many apply: religions are tribal and xenophobic by nature; the prevelance on the right of black and white thinking; how immorality derives from beliving things that simply aren’t true (today, about vaccines, about the climate, about anyone other that white Christians). By these standard, the MAGA right are deeply immoral people, quite the opposite of Jerry Falwell’s characterization of them (more or less the same group) as the “moral majority.”

But let’s see what Parton has to say. She opens:

There was a time in American life when it was considered bad manners to talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. There were good reasons for that — those subjects tend to get people upset and angry and that’s always rough on digestion. But I doubt it was ever something that was practiced much because when people aren’t gossiping or talking about work, politics and religion are the most likely topics whether we like it or not. Still, I don’t think the merging of religion into partisan politics has ever been quite as thorough as it’s been in the past 40 years or so. Sure you can go back in history and see many examples of religious leaders being politically influential from Cotton Mather to Brigham Young to Martin Luther King Jr. And various religious movements have been deeply involved in social reforms forever. But the emergence of the Christian Right under the auspices of organizations like the Moral Majority led by the Reverend Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition was explicitly formed as a faction of the Republican Party for the purpose of electing officials who would carry out their political agenda. That was unusual and it has been wildly successful.

Two points here. There’s a strain of commentary claiming that Republicans were mainstream, reasonable people, until Trump hijacked the party and encouraged all the crazies, all the way down to George Santos. In contrast, while the party has certainly gotten worse, it’s been intellectually compromised as long as I’ve been paying attention. I’ve given examples of Ronald Reagan (in the second part of this post), and the repeatedly debunked belief in “trick-down economics,” the idea that cutting taxes for the wealthy somehow benefit society at large. See Paul Krugman, repeatedly, on this point. It’s related to the tendency of conservatives to think in simple-minded, black and white terms — see the WaPo Paul Waldman item near the bottom of this post. This blends into the second point: Republicans believing things that simply aren’t true, about the economy, about vaccines, about when “life” begins (which is the wrong question).

But this is how human nature, and society, plays out. This is why I follow items like this; they’re not about politics; they’re about how human nature interprets reality to suit its purposes (which is tribal for the sake of survival, ultimately). Is there a way out of this? A way toward a more enlightened, and in Shermer’s terms, *moral* future?


Another example of how believing in false things (about the priority of the idea of “life” beginning at conception):

OnlySky, Hemant Mehta, 19 Jan 2023: Idaho’s ‘faith-healing’ exemption has led to more senseless child deaths, subtitled “Members of the Followers of Christ sect have literally gotten away with murder under Idaho’s law”

Idaho is one of only six states where belief in “faith-healing” can help you escape charges of negligent homicide, manslaughter, or capital murder. So if a child dies because her Christian Science parents refused to take her to a doctor, those parents won’t be punished.

Examples follow.

The same Christians who call themselves “pro-life” are sticking their heads in the sand while babies die for no reason other than their parents’ religious gullibility.

These people’s “morality” results in the needless deaths of children.


Then there’s the recent story about a losing Republican candidate in New Mexico who set about shooting at — or hiring people to shoot at — the homes of Democrats. This is the latest in a long strain of Republicans, from Donald Trump to Kari Lake, who simply can’t believe they can lose an honest election. Another part, apparently, of the conservative mindset: extreme arrogance, and the inability to comprehend that not everyone in the world thinks (using the word loosely) exactly like them.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 20 Jan 2023: New Mexico shooting suspect shows Republicans seek a violent solution to rejection, subtitled “From the Big Lie to Twitter to their families, Republicans refuse to peacefully admit that they’re unpopular”

But in another sense, the root cause of such political violence runs even deeper than that. Peña’s alleged plot is the latest manifestation of a deeper and expanding malady affecting Republicans nationwide: A refusal to accept that their political views are simply unpopular. When faced with proof that they and their ideas are being rejected, rather than reform or at least try to recast their ideas, Republicans often turn to conspiracy theories about sinister forces working against them. In the right-wing imagination, the problem could never be that people have heard their ideas and decided they just don’t like them. Blame is instead put on “woke” educators or Hollywood manipulators “brainwashing” the masses. The “deep state,” meanwhile, supposedly steals elections. And the “globalists” (read: Jews) somehow pull all of the strings.

Again to cite the situation in Shermer’s terms: these people believe in things that are not true, and their resulting actions are therefore deeply immoral.


Another things that’s not true, that recurs over and over again in conservative, simple-minded thinking: the idea that “everything happens for a reason.”

WaPo, David Quammen, 23 Jan 23: Opinion | Let’s leave the covid origin mystery to scientists

Quammen is a renowned author (see Amazon), which gives this piece some gravitas, compared to a standard piece by a newspaper opinion columnist.

But I note this piece not to get into the controversy of how the COVID virus originated, but to note how obsessed conservatives are with *assigning blame* to someone, especially an ‘enemy’ like the Chinese, rather than just accept that some things happen, at random. That’s how the world actually works. Again, a pattern of believing things that aren’t true.


These examples and themes relate to another idea: the religious idea that everything important was already known to the ancients, and recorded in those holy books, and any claim to knowledge that contradicts those (in themselves contradictory) books must be rejected. Or tortuously interpreted to comply to some passage from those holy books. The idea of learning, changing, never enters their minds.

But the mature, adult, reasonable mind should be able to change their minds as new evidence from the world changes. That’s a hallmark of a true adult.

This brings to mind a quote on Facebook I saw today from Adam Grant (author of Think Again, reviewed here), who is given to posting pithy quotes. Though I can’t at the moment find a direct link. Here’s the quote.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. To err is human.

It becomes a problem when you choose to stay wrong. To deny error is willful blindness.

New information is an invitation to question old opinions. The faster you are to recognize your mistakes, the less wrong you become.

People who think they have all the answers, and that nothing could ever change their minds about anything, are part of the problem.

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