Tag Archives: GOP

“I’m not a scientist, man”

Galileo by Giusto SustermansEver since the Roman Inquisition decreed that Galileo was “vehemently suspect of heresy” for suggesting the sun stood still while the earth revolved around it, the interplay of science and religious belief has been problematic for the church.  In the ensuing centuries as the age of reason, of enlightenment, and of rationalism dominated western thought, church folk could either accept or reject scientific data, and Christians inexorably moved into one of two camps.

The nineteenth century witnessed the rise of “liberal Protestantism” which freely embraced science and empiricism … faith seeking understanding.  Scripture was subjected to scientific and historical analysis, the so-called “historical critical method.”  For this camp, it was “both-and.”

For others, the dilemma was easily solved: If science contradicted traditional, Biblical understanding, science must be rejected.  For this camp, it was “either-or.”

The Presbyterians in the 1920s served as proxy for the whole of Christendom in the so-called “Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy.  Presbyterian scholars chafed under imposed dogmatic “fundamentals.” Emanating from Auburn University, theologians circulated a document proclaiming the freedom of conscience and the right of dissent—the so-called “Auburn Affirmation.”  A commission was formed, and the 1927 Presbyterian General Assembly adopted the commission’s progressive report; the modernists had prevailed and the fundamentalists had lost.

    But the rift in Christianity wasn’t healed, and the two camps grew further apart.  Historian David Hollinger suggests using the terminology “ecumenical” for the progressives and “evangelical” for the conservatives.  The terms imply an outward versus insular attitude.  In the Church of England decision this week to preclude female bishops, the “evangelical” camp prevailed.  In the recent legislative wrangling within the modern-day Presbyterian Church over LGBT ordination, the evangelicals lost; this was also the recent experience of the Episcopal Church, the Lutherans of the ELCA, and the United Church of Christ.  All these “ecumenical” denominations have endorsed gay clergy.  Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity continues to loudly defend its non-scientific worldview.

This is the religious background to the political point of this post.

In the last generation, the United States has witnessed the rise of the religious right.  More than that, evangelical religionists have come to occupy a dominant position within the Republican party.  When presumably intelligent and educated Senator Marco Rubio visited Iowa this week, he professed ignorance when asked a simple scientific question about the age of the earth:

“I’m not a scientist, man … It’s one of the great mysteries …  It is a dispute among theologians.”

Nobel prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman responds,  “What about the geologists?”

Here is the profoundly frightening part.  By wedding itself to the evangelicals, the Republican party has embraced ignorance, and Marco Rubio is constrained to play dumb for fear of alienating the Iowa base.  Krugman puts it this way:

Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

Evolution versus creationism and global warming are obvious public policy issues affected by Republican know-nothingism.  Less obvious is economic theory: austerity versus stimulus during a down economy or the lack of evidence to support supply-side, trickle down policies.  As with their evangelical religionist cronies, the Republican preference is for dogma over empiricism.

Lest we dismiss Krugman as just another liberal Democrat, consider the sentiments of Ross Douthat, one of the handful of Republican commentators willing to acknowledge the emperor wears no clothes.

The fact that the “conservatives vs. science” framework is frequently unfair doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist, or that Republican politicians should just get a free pass for tiptoeing around it. No matter how you spin it, Rubio’s bets-hedging non-answer isn’t exactly a great indicator about the state of the party he might aspire to lead … it’s still neither politically helpful nor intellectually healthy for a minority political party to pick pointless fights with the nation’s scientific and technical elite.

So much for the vacuous impact on public policy wrought by the marriage of evangelicals and politicians.  What about the impact on religious institutions?  On religion itself?  Evangelicals love to beat their chest and point to declining membership in the ecumenical denominations in a post-Christian America.  But it is not just the old mainline denominations—it is Christianity and religion in general.  We have previously posted about this issue and quoted a review of the recent book American Grace which:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

And Douthat the Republican agrees:

the goal of Christianity is supposed to be the conversion of every human heart — yes, scientists and intellectuals included — and the central claim of Christianity is that the faith offers, not a particular political agenda or an economic program, but the true story of the world entire. The more Christians convince themselves that their faith’s core is identical with the modern innovation of fundamentalism, and in direct conflict with the best available modern biology and geology, the less attainable that goal and the less tenable that central claim.

Conservative entertainment complex

Were you shocked by the election results?  If so, perhaps you should stop watching Fox News.

David Frumm is a Republican writer for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, and he coined the phrase, “conservative entertainment complex” to describe media personalities and organizations whose financial motivations (i.e., ratings) color their pseudo-political news and commentary.  What is reported and how is dictated by audience share rather than responsible journalism.  Frumm suggests that the Republican cause was ill served by dishonest appraisals of the issues and the electorate.  Actually, Frumm’s language is robust: “Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.”

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Glen Beck are unnamed but obvious candidates for the “conservative entertainment complex” criticized by Frumm.  Their bombast is meant to entertain rather than inform.

What about Fox News, the most-watched cable news network?  Apparently, CNN or other network news programming was streaming in the ballroom where Romney supporters watched election night returns, but as the news soured they demanded a switch to Fox.  What that says about the willingness to be misled is fascinating.  With Pavlovian predictability, the supporters knew where to turn to hear what they wanted to hear.  Unfortunately for those viewers, Fox also called the election for Obama relatively early thus dashing all false hopes in a fascinating scene in which Karl Rove disputed the call.

Rupert MurdochAny analysis of Fox must start with Rupert Murdoch.  Murdoch is the Australian-born media magnate who first penetrated the British tabloid market and then the American, founding the supermarket favorite, Star Magazine, in the seventies.  In 1985, he sacrificed his Australian citizenship in order to gain citizenship on these shores to get around the legal requirement that the owner of U.S. TV stations must be a citizen.  It is Murdoch’s media empire that is now under criminal investigation in Britain for illegal phone tapping, and many of his highest-ranking associates are under indictment.  Murdoch’s conglomerate founded Fox News in 1996, and it remains among Murdoch’s current U.S. holdings.

A recent study found that viewers who didn’t watch any news on TV were able to answer 1.22 standardized test questions correctly.  The most informed were those who listened to NPR or watched the Sunday morning talk shows with average scores of 1.51 correct answers.  Fox News Viewers?  1.04.  Yep, that’s right.  The study demonstrated that Fox viewers were less informed than the folks who didn’t watch any news!

Faux News is more than a pejorative descriptor; it is accurate.

Feeding the beast

This first week following the election has seen endless Republican hand-wringing.  What did the party do wrong and how will it be fixed going forward?  Morning Joe Scarborough and the the crew on MSNBC this morning suggested it was a problem of tone.  Too shrill.  Too demeaning.  Too scapegoating.  “What happened to the compassionate conservatism of President Bush?” Scarborough whined.  Immigrant bashing.  Gay bashing.  Forty-seven per cent bashing.  Louisiana Governor Jindal drew praise from the morning crew for criticizing Romney’s latest attempt to blame his defeat on those who would benefit from benevolent government policies (student loan relief, healthcare, etc.).

Talk nice and the party will be restored.  Really, Joe Scarborough?  That’s all that’s wrong with the once-proud party of Lincoln?

Since the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon, this has been a party that has fed the beast plenty of red meat, and now the monster is threatening to devour the party.  Has the beast master lost control?

For those too young to remember, George Wallace was a race-baiting segregationist governor of Georgia in the early sixties who had great success as a third-party presidential candidate by stoking the fears of angry white southerners.  Nixon and his cronies learned from Wallace.  Lee Atwater was Richard Nixon’s Karl Rove, and his 1981 explanation of the southern strategy, long rumored, has now been confirmed on video (dug up by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, no less).

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

town hallWillie Horton.  Welfare queens.  Food stamp president.  Takers vs. makers.  47%.  Code language that supported the unstated narrative.  Only now, when there aren’t enough angry white men to offset the coalition of the young, the women, the Hispanics, and the blacks that has become the Democratic base of the twenty-first century, are Republicans having second thoughts.

How will they put the beast back in the cage?  Tea party insurgents have defeated moderate Republican Senatorial candidates in the last two elections only to see the red seats turn blue in the general election.  Senate majority leader McConnell will likely face a primary challenge next go-round unless he continues to throw plenty of red meat.  The same is true of House Speaker Boehner and his own caucus that may oust him if he seeks moderation in negotiations with the White House.

Talk nice, if you will, Joe Scarborough.  That may placate the party moderates and some independents, but how will the party tame the beast that has gorged on culture wars, nativist and racist code-words, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of more than a generation?  Pardon me if I don’t feel sorry when the beast you have loosed turns on you.

Before the election, President Obama predicted a Republican civil war.  We can only hope for minimal collateral damage.