Tuesday, September 14, 2010

America As A Hostage To Stupidity


If one thing came out of the Quran-burning threat of "Pastor" Terry Jones, it's that America looked the fool for kowtowing to the machinations of an ignorant snake oil salesman. Some people might say that the media is to blame, but in this case, demonizing the messenger comes a little too late: the warning was announced months ago and very few paid attention. It was General Petraeus' outspoken concern that made the eyes of America focus on Jones. Then Terry Jones made his mark, not caring about American troops in Afghanistan, nor condemnation by his "peers" nor even about any spiritual message he so disingenuously (and quite ineptly) conveyed. By Sept. 7th, it was all done. He was in the history books; and since thousands of people had actually given their support, (in the form of  Qurans to burn) he knew he'd garnered more followers than he'd ever dreamed of. Terry Jones realized power, the kind of power he'd craved all his life. The entire United States of America was BEGGING him not to do something, and he so kindly acquiesced to its entreaties, but only after it acquiesced to his demands. For several days, he had soldiers' lives in his hands. The power boggles the mind.

Perhaps it's the combination of media and "God God God" "Bible Bible Bible" "Send Money" that is irresistible to American Christians. Perhaps it's the "Rev." or "Dr." that Jones put in front of his name (the latter just now being investigated both here and abroad). Maybe it was Jones' charisma (albeit a bit dull to those having an I.Q. above that of a dead flashlight battery) Or maybe, just maybe, it's that Jones had provided a form of entertainment to his little "flock" and to the rest of the nation. After all, America's foremost God-given birthright is ... to be entertained. Jones' escapade gave the public the same kind of thrill as would the latest Armageddon flick. He had all of us looking at our calendars and ticking off the hours.

Yet Terry Jones must have done something right. After all, his mentor, Fred Phelps, has been apoplectic ever since his acolyte received the kind of attention deemed only for his holiness, the God-Hates-Fags Phenomenon. You could say that to cause riots in the streets of foreign countries takes a certain savoir faire. And if Fred Phelps lacks anything, it's savoir faire. By playing for time, Jones had accomplished some bloodshed BEFORE he made his off-again-on-again pronouncements: dozens of people had been hurt in the ensuing riots. Of course, he prayed for them all to be healed, such is the way of the charismatic form of religion.

As anti-heroes go, Jones will fare better than Phelps because, in the end, he seemed to be reasonable and his (steadily increasing) flock will point him out as a stalwart, rather than just a wart on the face of today's Christianity.

But for all of it's looking the fool, we have to fear for an America where the Phelps' and the Jones' have any followers at all: does anyone want to actually MEET any of their followers? Only the bravest journalist would actually venture into their territories, intellectual black holes sucking out their entire I.Q. and journalistic integrity in an instant.*

And beyond the Phelpses and the Joneses, we have Inerrantists (the Bible is totally iwithout error), Fundamentalists (Bible "inspired"or maybe just faxed by God),  Geocentrists (the Church was right and Galileo was wrong), Christian Reconstructionists (government by the the Bible, for the Bible, and with the Bible), Dominionists (Christians Rule), Young Earthers (Creationism-to-the-max), Premillenialists (the Rapture is coming soon), snake handlers, Lou Engle, Sharron Angle, Rod Parsley, Pat Robertson, David Barton, Glenn Beck, Bryan Fischer, and Michele Bachmann, to name but a very few. 

And along with these people we have institutions like the Creation Museum.

The themes of the exhibits resound in the theater presentations: Men in White, Six Days of Creation, The Last Adam, and Dinosaurs and Dragons. Our Special Effects Theater, complete with rumbling seats and rising mists, takes visitors on a fantastic quest to find the real purpose and meaning of life.
Each seat is a rocket launching pad in our Stargazers Planetarium. Prepare for lift-off. The digital projector showcases a spectacular gravity-defying spaceflight, a thrilling ride billions of light years away to the vast outer regions of our universe.
The contradiction is lost on those who have given up reason for belief: how can an enterprise such as the Creation Museum expect you to believe in a 6000 year-old earth and talk about "billions of light years" using the same science it rebukes?

The willingness of some Americans to accept such folly as the Creation Museum overshadows a deeper strain of stupidity if you will: the Christian Right school board. Texas school boards, in particular, have not only maximized Creationism, but they have insisted on revisionist history books and banned books they consider too radical or "activist" to even Laura Bush's consternation. Political pundits like Glenn Beck and politicians like Sharron Angle have pushed for the elimination of the federal government's Department of Education, ostensibly to save money. The possibility exists, however, that Christian Right pundits, politicians, and clergy might just feel the need to control future generations by keeping them stupid: feed them lots of religion, whitewashed history, and extreme competition, while starving them of sociology, science, the arts, and any ability to be individual or creative. Even if a place like the Creation Museum closes its doors, more dinosaurs might wind up sporting saddles in the future. 

This last "conspiracy," if you will, is not as far fetched as it seems on the surface: inroads into Africa (particularly Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe) have shown us what they can do to a poverty-stricken and backward area of the globe. Sending zealots like Lou Engle to prophesy and announce the coming of anointed ones like Scott Lively to "pagan" countries is working: if they can get heads of state and their legislatures to heed their proselytizing and "advice," the spread of the Christian Right's politicized religion will be much easier than it has been here in the U.S. Yet the audacity of the Christian Right passing off people as "experts (like George Rekers, David Barton and Scott Lively) and by allowing their own fringe to go on uncensored proves that they still believe a viable portion of America is susceptible to anything they proffer as truth and authority. They are still making inroads. And as with Terry Jones' power, it boggles the mind.


* The stalwart rightwing John Stossel interviewed the Phelps clan once, and even he had to conclude that they were stupifyingly dogmatic, and bemoaned the fact that their children were being taught to hate just about everyone outside of the family.