Does That Old-Time Religion Signal The End Of Rational Thought?
An incident about gender identity in the Maryland Legislature last week magnified a microcosm of what we are going through in the United States about religion in the Age of Trump. Republican Senator Bryan W. Simonaire of Anne Arundel Countyl, the father of seven children who had strongly opposed same-sex marriage laws, stood up in the Senate chamber and spoke passionately for a law that would allow conversion therapy in Maryland for gay children of constituents. Shortly after his speech, Republican Representative Meagan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, a bisexual daughter of Senator Simonaire, stood up in the House of Delegates, and spoke passionately for a bill that would ban conversion therapy in the state of Maryland.
The bill would prohibit conversion therapy by licensed medical professionals on minors and ban the use of state funds for the practice. In her dramatic floor speech, Meagan, a legislator in her first term, said: “This issue isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. It’s not about religious issues. It’s about basic human decency.” After her plea, the House voted 95-27 for the ban. The Governor is expected to sign it. But it is certainly a political and religious issue which has been debated for thousands of years.
Her father did not mention that he and his wife had recommended to Meagan she seek conversion therapy when she told them at age 26 she was bisexual. On the House floor she told the story of a girl who was attracted to both girls and boys and the fact she had “fallen in love” with a girl at a young age. She said her parents were “heartbroken and disgusted” when she informed them, but she had never sought that type of counseling. She admitted she felt great pain, self-loathing, and deep depression when her parents wanted her “fixed.”
Simonaire said he and his wife had raised their seven children to be “Christian” free independent thinkers, so they had suggested she seek “Christian” counseling. The practice of gay conversion therapy has been widely discredited by both medical and mental-health associations and has been banned for minors in the District of Columbia and ten states. After the vote, Mr. Simonaire said on the Senate floor he wondered whether “Jesus would have been banned if he had been licensed in Maryland.” Would some Bible Thumper please tell me where in the Bible Jesus counseled some poor soul about being gay? With over 60 gender identities already named, chances are at least one of the Apostles was an LBGTQ member. Make your pick.
My Checkered Religious Past—And Future
Before I get into a discussion of “cafeteria” fundamental and evangelical Christians and my many “cafeteria” Catholic friends at the diverse religious buffet, I need to describe my personal “religious” experiences. My first 27 years were spent in the Roman Catholic Church, whispering my many venal and mortal sins to that mysterious figure behind a screen, and getting dozens of Hail Mary’s to recite as penance for my sins. I was pretty good in catechism classes because I was an avid reader of everything. In Little Falls we had French, German, and Polish Catholic churches and it was considered a sin to cross the thresholds of the other two. Corky converted to Catholicism before we were married in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, but after listening to Navy and Marine chaplains for three years while we were in the Marine Corps, she wanted out, so we joined Martin Luther’s creation because he had done a super job in trying to reform the Vatican.
So over the last 59 years I have listened to thousands of Lutheran sermons, admitting I was a sinner and singing about Christians marching off to some war. In that span of time I must admit have I spent periods practicing pantheism, the atheism of Chris Hitchens, agnosticism, Buddhism, and trying to avoid Billy Graham crusades. I never got to handling Pentecostal snakes. I am probably closer to the religion of W.C. Fields, my favorite actor over the years, than anyone else. I have a martini every day at five in tribute to his drinking habits and charismatic personality.
When a friend thought Bill was dying, he visited Bill at his home. When he entered Bill’s bedroom, he caught him in bed paging through a Bible. Bill’s friend said, “But Bill, you’re not religious! What are you doing, reading the Bible?” Bill looked up and said: “I know. I’m just looking for loopholes.” On many days that’s where I stand with Bill. I have learned over the years to believe in this evaluation by a Protestant minister: “When you see a man with a great deal of religion displayed in his shop window, you may depend upon it, he keeps a very small stock of it within.”
“That Old-Time Religion” Is No Longer Good Enough For Anybody
Yes, the Bible has some terrific advice on how to live a good life within a society and how to achieve salvation. But it also contains a lot of old tribal nonsense such as ”let’s-stone-them-to-death,” gender inequality, numerous fairy tales, and many hysterical unscientific musings of old men. It seems many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who voted for Emperor Donald believe in every word in the Bible, particularly the Ten Commandments. But Our Great Leader probably has kept only 20% of the ten. Substantial evidence suggests he has violated 80%.
I have seen no evidence he has dishonored his mother and father in the 5th or murdered someone as stated in the 6th. But he certainly has violated #1 because he is his own god. He violates #2 constantly because he can’t pass a mirror without admiring himself and his sociopathic combed-back blonde hair. If you have listened to his campaign speeches you can immediately recognize his problems with #3.
He readily admits he is not religious. He has no need of forgiveness and hardly ever goes to religious services, although he tries to sell the idea he is really a Presbyterian--or something. There goes #4 because he tried to use Easter services this year as another photo op. We all know that #7 about adultery is really stormy for him. Is it 27 or 28 women who are suing him because of sexual harassment? Well, some boys will always remain horny, undisciplined boys. As for #8 and stealing, many individuals and companies have sued him for his failure to pay for services rendered. Is it true he has started 3,000 lawsuits? And, finally, #10 is about the idea of coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, ox, or ass. Guilty as charged. Emperor Donald’s hometown newspaper the New York Times has been evaluating him for years: “Mr. Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grafters, cons, sharks, goons, and crooks. His motto could be ‘the buck stops anywhere but here’.”He constantly displays he is totally addicted to himself and the Almighty Dollar. The question is: why did 80% of evangelical Christians vote for Emperor Donald? Some scientific answers are below.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
That old-time Christian religion as portrayed in old Western movies went something like this: be a good person, treat others well, say your prayers on your knees, act humble even if you aren’t, thank God several times a day, and say “Amen!” with feeling. Heaven will come. So how did the ungodly Trump turn into what Jerry Falwell Jr. calls “the one chosen by God to lead the United States” to the promised land?
The science of psychologist David Dunning and of neuroscientist Justin Kruger attempts to answer why fundamentalist and evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for the heretic Donald. The two scientists through the Dunning-Kruger Effect say Christians voted for Trump because they were ignorant of their own ignorance! They both argue that the scope of people’s ignorance is often invisible to them. Their lack of expertise and knowledge often hides in the realm of the “unknown unknowns” or is disguised by erroneous beliefs and background knowledge.
Because the apprentice carnival barker and ex-Democrat with no ideology except “ME” promised them an anti-abortion and anti-gay Supreme Court majority member, Trump said: “They would have voted for me even if I shot and killed somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue.” His shocking statements about increasing crime, Mexican rapists roaming many streets, and the worst economy in history, brought loud cheers of support. Senator John McCain summed up Trump’s success: “What he did was he fired up the crazies.” The theory of how the Dunning-Kruger Effect operates is this: The Effect creates a double burden. It isn’t that the evangelicals are misinformed, it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. People who lack expertise in some area of knowledge prevent them from realizing that they lack expertise. If one lacks knowledge and the intelligence to gain it, one remains ignorant. This includes political judgment. Dunning and Kruger add this shocker: “They’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” Ouch.’
A graphic example of the D-K Effect is the case of “Teacher of the Year” Stacy Bailey of a Dallas-area school district. Selected in 2016 for the prestigious award, Stacy tried to get the district to sponsor a gay-straight alliance club for district LBGTQ students. She was immediately put on administrative leave without pay for 2017.
Is There A Link Between Brain Damage And Religious Fundamentalism?
Neuropsychologists say yes. It has to do with damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Research at Northwestern University utilizing Vietnam War vets with brain damage and healthy vets with no brain damage indicates that damage to the prefrontal cortex diminishes cognitive flexibility and openness. This part of the brain deals with curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness. Religious beliefs do not depend on new evidence and scientific explanations. Religion is based on the conserving of old ideas, often expressed in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Most of the vets with damaged brains, if they had any religion at all, leaned dramatically toward fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The research revealed that an increase in religious fundamentalism was caused by a reduction in cognitive flexibility and openness from damage to the prefrontal cortex. The researchers admit that this kind of research, because of the contentious subject of religion, will probably go on for decades.
Actually, there’s not much Christianity left in the Religious Right captured by the Republican Party over the last three decades. It has turned itself into a fascist political party. The fundamentalists and the evangelicals reached the tipping point of hypocrisy in 2016. Columnist Jay Parini wrote in The Daily Beast: They elected “an unhinged philanderer, a braggart whose own life and example was a mockery of Christian values—as long as he delivered a reliably anti-abortion and anti-gay rights judge to replace Antonin Scalia.
Neil Gorsuch was their man, and Trump delivered.” The Far East has its 1400-year old Taliban of honor killings and ritual sharia stonings. The American Religious Right has turned itself into a white-supremacist, anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-black, brown, red, yellow, and even green American-style Taliban. It is fundamentally anti-democratic. Many of its members have always wanted to turn the United States into a theocracy ruled by Christian Identity “dominionists.”
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