Thursday, August 10, 2017

Christopher Douglas and Kurt Anderson on How America Lost Its Mind (or How the Christian Right Broke America)

Christopher Douglas responds to Kurt Anderson on how America lost its mind, with a statment entitled "How America Really Lost Its Mind: Hint, It Wasn't Entirely the Fault of Hippie New Agers and Postmodern Academics":

But the fact of the matter is that this very conservative religious tradition that remade the Republican Party in the 1980s and 1990s had already learned to discount expert knowledge and mainstream institutions like journalism and universities. As I argued earlier in "The Religious Origins of Fake News" here in Religion Dispatches, fundamentalist Christians long constituted their identity through a demurral on two intrinsically modern bodies of knowledge – evolution and the historical-critical Bible scholarship. 
And they didn't just reject the modern consensuses on evolutionary biology and the complex authorship, editing, and redaction of the Bible – they produced counter-institutions in the form of Christian colleges, newspapers, publishers, radio and then television shows, that cultivated counter-experts who confirmed divine creation and Biblical inerrancy and literalism. 
Conservative white Christians, in other words, had had one foot in a parallel information ecosystem for a long time. This ecosystem held fast until the 1960s because the nation generally accommodated their beliefs. That changed in the 1960s when Supreme Court decisions struck down the legally-sanctioned practices of public school prayer, school Bible reading, and prohibitions against teaching evolution in many Southern states. Many white evangelicals had already been rattled in the previous decade when Christian segregationism was demolished by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, inaugurating the Civil Rights movement. When conservative white evangelicals began to mobilize politically in the 1970s, it was in reaction to these things, as well as to changing sexual mores.

Here's Kurt Anderson in "How America Lost Its Mind":

How widespread is this promiscuous devotion to the untrue? How many Americans now inhabit alternate realities? Any given survey of beliefs is only a sketch of what people in general really think. But reams of survey research from the past 20 years reveal a rough, useful census of American credulity and delusion. By my reckoning, the solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Only a third of us, for instance, don’t believe that the tale of creation in Genesis is the word of God. Only a third strongly disbelieve in telepathy and ghosts. Two-thirds of Americans believe that "angels and demons are active in the world." More than half say they’re absolutely certain heaven exists, and just as many are sure of the existence of a personal God—not a vague force or universal spirit or higher power, but some guy. A third of us believe not only that global warming is no big deal but that it’s a hoax perpetrated by scientists, the government, and journalists. A third believe that our earliest ancestors were humans just like us; that the government has, in league with the pharmaceutical industry, hidden evidence of natural cancer cures; that extraterrestrials have visited or are visiting Earth. Almost a quarter believe that vaccines cause autism, and that Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016. A quarter believe that our previous president maybe or definitely was (or is?) the anti-Christ. According to a survey by Public Policy Polling, 15 percent believe that the “media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals,” and another 15 percent think that’s possible. A quarter of Americans believe in witches. Remarkably, the same fraction, or maybe less, believes that the Bible consists mainly of legends and fables—the same proportion that believes U.S. officials were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.

I think Douglas' critique of Anderson is absolutely right: Anderson, who grew up in a conservative Republican household in Nebraska at a remove from the hotbed of right-wing white evangelicalism that has broken America (with active collusion of right-wing white Catholics and Mormons), underestimates the role white evangelicalism (and its white Catholic and Mormon fellow travelers) have played in breaking America from the 1960s forward. In direct response to the civil rights breakthrough of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the civil rights breakthroughs of women and LGBTQ folks as the century went on . . . . 

As Christopher Stroop has noted brilliantly, the Christian right deliberately broke an America it felt it could no longer control after the 1960s. It did so, Chris points out, by creating a world of #ChristianAltFacts, which introduced wide sectors of the American public to alternative reality as spun by "bible-believing" Christians who think witches are still a thing, that the world was created in seven days some 5,000 years ago, that evolution is a lie, that Jesus and dinosaurs cavorted together, that climate change is a hoax, that Donald Trump won the popular vote in the last election and millions voted illegally, that Hillary Clinton has murdered umpteen people, that a woman whose brain has died smiles and is aware of what is happening around her, that an eclipse is a sign sent by God indicating that "He" intends to rain fire and fury on sinners, that: well, you name it.

White evangelicals deliberately broke a culture they could no longer control after the civil rights breakthroughs for people of color in the 1950s and 1960s, and they had ample help from the U.S. Catholic bishops — and, yes, I mean you, Messrs. Dolan, Chaput, Cordileone, Burke, Nienstedt, Finn, Myers, Olmsted, Lori, and you, Messrs. Gingrich, Brownback, E. Prince, Santorum, Cuccinelli, Bannon, and countless others like you. 

You have worked gleefully, willingly, to break American democracy, and Donald Trump is the evil fruit of your actions. Donald Trump and his threats to rain down fire and fury with nuclear weapons that would, if deployed, kill countless people — who was placed in the White House due to your relentless beating of a "pro-life" drum for years now. . . .  Shame be on your "pro-life" heads.

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