The War on Truth & Intellect: Anti-Intellectualism & The Religious Right

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A reasonable person might ask, how could anyone vote for someone as stupid as Dr. Ben Carson? Why would you ever want to elect an ignorant person to the most powerful and influential job in the world? The sad fact of the matter is, not everyone in this country places such importance on intelligence as a prerequisite and qualifier for President. As much as the Right condemns those of us on the Left for having no values and attacking their faith, one of the most fundamental values we cherish is that of intellect, and the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectualism and human betterment have always been deeply held principles, and reason is central to progressive belief. There are plenty of religious people who count themselves liberals, but more often than not, they are reasonable and embrace plurality and diversity of opinion. Being a liberal or progressive does NOT preclude one from being faithful or religious.

Conservatives often rightly condemn us as elitists, but they often wear their own ignorance proudly, and as a badge of honor. As if being less intelligent and more faithful and religious was a good thing. But to them, it is. Faith will get you into Heaven, but don’t forget where Knowledge got poor Adam and Eve. Almost from the outset, some read the Bible as a cautionary tale against seeking knowledge and questioning God’s will. Asking questions and being too clever was looked at as sinful or prideful, and often severely discouraged and punished. Naturally, this is just one narrow and rigid interpretation of the Bible, but it has been led to a persistent and pervasive attitude towards education and learning that has found its way down through the ages, and into many evangelical and conservative faiths today.

The people considered fundamentalist have the narrowest view of the Bible, and are rigid in their condemnations of others for  behaviors they view as sinful. They seek to return America to its “Christian values” and fanatically believe America is being eroded by moral decay and a culture of permissiveness and sex. They are distrustful of medicine, science, technology, socialism or other types of government, non-Christian religions, minorities and laws like affirmative action, homosexuality, immigrants, Hollywood, the media, gun control, and many other hot-button issues. These are the people who vote and support candidates like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and once upon a time, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. This is a very different Republican party than Eisenhower, Nixon, and William F. Buckley inhabited. And as much as they love to claim them as their own, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt truly belonged to a party closer to resembling today’s Democratic Party. Anyone who knows the history of the parties and evolution over the last 150 years, knows as much. Over the last 40 years, the party has been hijacked by the Religious Right, and there has been a war on intellectualism. The days of Buckley’s incisive criticism and articulation of the party’s views are long gone, and the GOP is left with deeply faithful fanatical Christians, who have very little intellectual chops, but aren’t short on faith and moral outrage. They prey on fear, and use minorities, women, immigrants, and xenophobia to scare their base, and whip up the party.

People like Ben Carson can say outrageous and patently false statements, because 1) No one on the Right is going to fact check him, and 2) It doesn’t matter what facts and figures he has, because they’re not judging him on his intellect or veracity, but on the faith in his heart and commitment to fighting the culture wars from the Oval Office. They want an advocate to outlaw abortion, impose the death penalty, overthrow gay marriage, remove all environmental regulations, work to bring Creationism to schools and remove Evolution, build border walls and brutally enforce strict immigration laws, remove regulations from business and stoke a free market, cut taxes, reverse Obamacare, eliminate most social entitlement programs, and work to undo all the other progress the Left has made in this country. They care about moral crusaders and the soul of their candidates, but the mind is perhaps the least important part.

When Donald Trump uses the slogan, ‘Making America Great Again,’ it’s insulting to many Americans, and so sadly misleading. When was it great to begin with? Was that during the genocide of Native Americans, and when the country stripped them of their land? Or was it during slavery, and the years the country was bitterly divided and fought a civil war? Or when the Irish were rejected work? The lynchings and Jim Crow era? Perhaps it was when women were denied the right to vote or to work, or Japanese internment camps. Or was it Vietnam and the turbulent ’60s? The point is, there was no time America was “great” because it wasn’t great for everyone. Sure, maybe if you were a white, male, wealthy, Christian landowner in the south, there might have been great times. But it sure wasn’t for their slaves and the women in their households. America is a great country, and since the lofty goals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and added upon in the Constitution even still today, it aspired to be something greater than it was. ALL men created equal. And women, and blacks, and gays, and every other person in this great country. But there is no ‘great’ to return to, Mr. Trump. The great is in front of us, as we take steps to make this country great and free for everyone.

The truth of the matter is, Intelligence is often the biggest indicator of tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness, and a commitment to social justice. The pursuit of egalitarian principles is most often achieved by the smart and the bold. On the other hand, ignorance is the biggest indicator of bigotry, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and violence and a predilection to fight. Poverty is often the leading cause of ignorance, and not surprisingly, education and a war on poverty have been two of the biggest pieces of agenda on the Democratic platform. By stamping our poverty, we stamp out so many other things, such as violence, ignorance, and bigotry. Yet the Right has proven time and again, that it would rather spend countless trillions of dollars on foreign wars of election, than on educating every American, and lifting them out of poverty. Imagine what kind of education we could have provided with all the money spent on Afghanistan and Iraq. But again, since intelligence is not valued and cherished by many on the Right, either is education. It’s apparently more important to build walls to keep foreigners out and to build bigger and better weapons to fight wars and exert dominance over the rest of the world. This is a macho, jingoistic, xenophobic, truculent, and violent mindset. One who shoots first, and asks questions later. Only a mindless cowboy seeks fights, rather than keeps the peace, and avoids them.

If this world is ever going to achieve peace and tolerance, it will have to be won by the intellectuals and reason-minded. That doesn’t mean an attack on faith or that religion has no place in a civil society. Faith can play a tremendous role in a community’s health and well-being. Religion doesn’t have to be at odds with science and reason, or intellectualism and rationalism. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is, until you make them so, and admonish intelligence, and uphold blind faith and hateful, ignorant views. The people who vote for Ben Carson are not voting for intelligence, but his eternal soul. The President represents ALL Americans, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, and every other faith and belief there is. We don’t need another devout zealot trying to shape this country back into the Christian nation it once was, because it never was. The Founding Fathers did not intend it to be, and made it abundantly clear that there was to be a separation of Church and State. So go ahead, and get angry whenever a state removes a Ten Commandments rock from the statehouse grounds or prohibits prayer in school, but then go and read the Constitution, and get a clue already. A vote for an ignorant man — brain surgeon or not — is a vote for poor leadership. This is arguably the hardest job in the world, and a President probably makes at least a hundred decisions a day. This is subtle, nuanced work, and it takes a considerable mind to process all that information, face tremendous resistance, work successfully with opposing parties, use diplomacy effectively, keep peace or judiciously wage war, and make small and large decisions that could have catastrophic results. This is not a job for the feeble-minded or anti-intellectual. We saw how well George W. Bush did with his eight mindless years in office. He took a considerable surplus and turned it into a huge deficit, he launched two costly wars which we still can’t get out of, he spent all of America’s capital and good will the world had for us, he set global warming and sustainable energy back decades, he made a royal mess of Hurricane Katrina, and made many other serious blunders. W was not an intelligent man, and as such, he was handled and manipulated by war hawks and powerful men with militant agendas.

America cannot afford another dim-witted man in the White House. And that’s the fundamental difference between those who would vote for a vacuous mind, and those who put weight in the intellectual heft of a candidate. Ben Carson fans have absolutely no problem believing Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, because they either believe it to be true, or don’t care if it’s false. Either one is dangerous. Those of us who know better should do whatever it takes not to elect those who don’t.

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