Biblical literalism is costing America dearly right now

Michigan gun protestors

For the last four decades, highly respected polls surveying opinions about religious beliefs have shown that between 30-40% of Americans embrace a biblically literal worldview. That belief system embraces the idea that the Bible story with its six-day creation narrative with animals and human beings fashioned out of nothing is more credible than the demonstrable cause-and-effect outcomes of material processes.

The resulting worldview of creationism also insists that every living creature but a few were wiped out in a global flood and that even the continents were tossed around like toys in a bathtub.

Those premises form a stubborn bulwark against multiple scientific principles ranging from plate tectonics to the theory of evolution.

One-third of America

So it’s time to stop and think about that: almost one-third of Americans do not accept science and instead embrace an alternate view of reality based on a literal interpretation of an oral tradition drawn from beliefs first formed some six thousand years ago. And by no coincidence, many of those same Americans hold the belief that the earth itself if no more than 6-10,000 years old. Some still believe the earth is flat, that sicknesses are caused by demons and that humans once shared the planet with meat-eating dinosaurs.

So it’s not hard to see why so many Americans fail to see the Coronavirus pandemic through a factually clear lens. It is preferable in their minds to deny science and medical information out of habit and fear that it could corrupt their minds and lead them away from God.

Cult thinking

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There are entire organizations and even political parties devoted to the propagation and support of the biblically literal worldview. These range from the apologetically driven Moody Bible Institute to the Answers In Genesis “ministry” with its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, both facilities dedicated to literal depictions of the Book of Genesis and its array of anachronistic characters. It is little more than a cult of denial, but it is enormously popular in a nation where the irony of religious freedom has produced a generation of patently stubborn idiots.

One in three people who walk into those museums buys that information wholesale. They hear it preached to them from pulpits and consume it through multiple media channels from their local radio stations to the megaphone of Fox News, where dog-whistle anti-science rhetoric claiming the falsehoods of science include calculated PR campaigns and scripted attacks on the impacts of climate change and even basic environmental regulations.

The real alarmists

Let’s be blunt: Americans convinced the earth was created in six literal days are incapable of grasping the public relations sophistication of a story such as a piece published on Fox News from the Heartland Institute, who claimed, “Not surprisingly coronavirus alarm has pushed most other issues and concerns out of the news ⎯ much to the dismay of climate alarmists,” said Steve Milloy of the Heartland Institute. “But the alarmists aren’t taking displacement by coronavirus lying down. In fact, many climate alarmists are trying to use coronavirus as a means of advancing their agenda. They are trying to surf it.”

This fearmongering approach is a common tactic that hearkens back to the earliest forms of propaganda employed by the Christian church to keep people in line. The original alarmists were always religious authoritarians. Traditionally it is the threat of life in hell that religion uses to scare people into believing what they’re told, and without question. Today’s religious leaders and politicians have adapted that approach while targeting science as the enemy of God to convince millions of people that even sound medical advice cannot be trusted.

The love of money religiously abided

Toss fears about the economy into the mix and the fearmongering takes on a whole new level of existential threat. It’s easy to scare people with the idea that someone else is trying to take your money. Climate change deniers and now Coronavirus blamers both claim that scientific warnings about these real threats are all about a money grab and/or an excuse for trying to install a worldwide government.

The sick fact is that even our own government is depicted as a threat among those claiming that basic scientific recommendations about disease control and social distancing are an infringement of liberties. That’s how a gang of gun-wielding domestic terrorists wound up inside the Michigan state capitol building demanding a meeting with the Governor. Their version of truth in action was vigilante lawlessness. In one fell swoop, they demonstrated that aggressive denial of science, common sense and rule of law can all be exacted upon society at will. Disturbingly, the President of the United States approved of their actions, instructing the Governor of Michigan to capitulate to their will. Trump knows that to appeal to “his base” he must cater to the most extreme factions with approval or risk having that 30% of cultlike Trump supporters abandon him.

Trickle-up effect

So we can see how the grassroots belief in biblical literalism and its associated denial of science and truth is costing America right now. President Donald Trump openly embraces evangelicals who deny science and even invent or propagate conspiracy theories that direct blame away from their pet President. All the better to avoid the truth that it was incompetency and delay by Trump right here in America that allowed the Coronavirus to get such traction.

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True to form and in keeping with the “science of denial” common to biblical literalists, Trump at first refused to acknowledge the threat as real (just like climate change) then downplayed its likely spread (though he was informed on a regular basis of the reality of the threat) and has now turned to claim his response has been a dynamic success, when in fact death projections are now reaching more than 200,000 Americans.

The goal now is to outstrip the failure by reframing “success” through the use of denial to convince willing supporters that Trump and team have done a good job. That means preventing any testimony by actual scientists and medical experts at hearings designed to examine America’s response to the pandemic. Just like the Senate’s denial to allow witness testimony about Trump’s corrupt activities in Ukraine, the Republican goal right now is to bury facts under propaganda. This is fascism at work.

LiveScience.com published a fascinating profile of fascism on its website that describes it this way: “Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, defined fascism as “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”

Fascism, socialism and the public good

Of course, the parallel need of any fascist government is to find an enemy upon which to direct its ire, thereby focusing the fears of its constituents on that target rather than allowing the facts of its own authoritarian power grab to be known. So the Trump regime and its allies are conveniently trotting out “socialism” as that enemy by depicting social programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and even the US Post Office as socialistically repressive forms of government that must be eradicated. Of course, Trump also eliminated the Pandemic Response Team in 2018 in order to eliminate costs.  This is where belief in a vastly reduced government can have real costs.

As documented on Reuters.com: “In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Beth Cameron, former Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense in the NSC, wrote, “When President Trump took office in 2017, the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact.

“Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19” ( here ).”

Comparable habits

The habits and patterns of denial are so comparable between Trump and the 30-40% of Americans that deny science it is entirely logical to place blame for the spread of Coronavirus on the one-third of the American public that embraces anachronism over science in the modern age. That is proof that biblical literalism is both bad theology and an irresponsible belief system. What God in heaven or on earth would have us choose to disregard or ignore information valuable to the protection of human welfare and even the entire planet? That is a God reduced instead to the petty aims of human selfishness. That is the sin of which Jesus accused the religious authorities of his day, who demanded respect for their country club lifestyle while people suffered in the streets.

These days it is inexcusable to embrace corrupt traditions such as Biblical literalism because it is so easy to find out the facts and know better. Instead, we are being forced to live in an age of lies, misinformation, propaganda and outright fascist attempts to undermine truth in favor of political and religious power in America.

That is the real and original pandemic of untruth with which we’re trying to contend today. Those brutes on the steps of the Michigan capitol are just one illustration of its effects. The other is the painted face and combover lies of a President who can’t face the fact that he’s a fraud, an incompetent, and a bully. That brand of evil threatens to kill us all.

 

 

MAGA deserves a closer look

None of us sees behind the veil of what Trump truly values. I have spoken with people that gained an audience with the man, and his personal interactions with them were both kind and considerate. That suggests there is something more to Trump than his public persona and political style. Perhaps his supporters sense this aspect of their president. So it demands a closer look at what drives the popularity of Make America Great Again.

Trump Maga Hat

His brand of brightly-hued optimism appeals to millions of Americans eager for some sort of renewal in this country. These also tend to be people aggravated by the complexity of life as it has evolved in the American republic. Trump’s slogan Make America Great Again proposes to eliminate the complexity of life by reducing the American experiment to simple actions; cutting taxes, ending illegal immigration, stopping abortion, eliminating financial and environmental regulation and putting religion at the forefront of national policy. Does that cover pretty much of what MAGA fans want to see happen?

The Trump mantra really isn’t more complicated than that. His simplicity is his message. One could just as easily change the Trump slogan to Make Aggravation Go Away and achieve the same objectives. A big chunk of the American electorate craves simplicity. They’re sick of having to think about complex issues such as the lives of transgender people. They’re tired of hearing Spanish rather than English spoken in public places. They’re believers in old-school industries such as coal and oil because they harken to a time before the complexities of air pollution, acid rain, and climate change challenged the status quo. There must be a simpler way. Trump appeals to that manner of thinking.

But first, let’s make the aggravations go away.

MAGA redefined

Make Aggravation Go Away is a powerful message also to people whose vision of America does not require accommodation of any sort. That means Christians should not have to think about Muslim traditions or put up with people saying Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. That cultural issue alone has aggravated Christians for a decade or so, coaxed on by Fox News chryons pitching the “War On Christmas.”

Make Aggravation Go Away has roots stretching way back to the Confederate cause in which states’ rights were the big issue, but mostly that was a cloak for the right to keep slaves. Indeed, that was the cause of ‘liberty’ back then. Liberty for white Christians quoting scripture to justify selfish aims while treating people of other races as property. It’s hard to read that sentence and grasp that people once truly believed that. Yet that’s what America most needs to do. Come to grips with its own conflicted traditions.

The Civil War was fought over that aggravation. There are still some Americans that wave the Confederate flag as a sign that their aggrieved state has never been recognized.

Protestors

Tracing these historical grievances from the past to present helps to explain why protestors are now gathering to “liberate” their states from Stay At Home orders issued by their governors. Responding to the pandemic has been an aggravation, which is defined as “an intensification of a negative quality or aspect.” The threat of disease is never a joyful situation. Being encouraged or required to retreat from public life is another layer of aggravation. Those orders are being treated as an infringement on personal rights by protestors who want to Make Aggravation Go Away.

Not that simple

The problem with that belief system is that life isn’t always that simple. Trump’s eagerness to prevent any outside influence from impinging on his prized economy is what directly led to the infection rate getting a head start on the nation’s ability to respond. By trying to simplify the Coronavirus threat to a sound bite and a promise that it would “go away, like magic,” Trump put millions of people’s lives at risk, and tens of thousands have indeed died.

Trump Denial

And yet his supporters still seek to simplify the complexities of Covid-19 with even more disturbing sound bites. So desperate are some supporters to protect Trump they have projected blame for the pandemic away from Trump to a more convenient and horrifically simplied target for their ire, Dr. Anthony Fauci. The Fire Fauci meme swept across the Internet with all the resonance and credulity of the Lock Her Up chants aimed at Hillary Clinton. Again, it’s all about Making Aggravation Go Away. Fauci is an aggravation because he’s a medical professional speaking in terms of science, that complex source of often bad news that stands in direct opposition to Trump’s vacuous brand of gut-instinct optimism.

fire fauci

That’s the kind analysis. A more honest approach would be to say that Trump acted stupidly by ignoring clear warnings that a pandemic was brewing overseas and that it would not be confined to arrival just from China. Fauci accurately predicted it would arrive through other channels, yet Trump desperately tried to simplify the threat by calling it the Chinese Virus. That was a clear attempt to politicize the problem with a nationalistic, effectively racist approach to directing blame away from himself. Trump aggressively failed the leadership test of recognizing a genuine threat to our national interests. That is how he approaches every problem he faces. He fails, then bails, and finally assails. It’s all about blaming others. That’s the simplest way to avoid responsibility. But to Trump, it is an art form.

As a result of Trump’s recklessness, our national interests are now bogged in a swamp of economic doldrums wrought by the need to shut down our service economy to prevent rampant spread of the Coronavirus. That requirement has cost millions of jobs and Americans are suffering, big time. The Trump response has been cynical at best. At one point he proudly promised to send Americans what he called a “big, fat check” amounting to about $1200 for most households. And then, Trump held up the distribution of those checks to make sure his name appeared on them.

Big money goes elsewhere

Meanwhile, billions have been snarfed up big money interests all too eager to accept the graft intended for “small business.” That includes Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, whose company gladly embraced more than $800M from the stimulus program. At what point did nepotism become a complete non-issue in this country? How ironic it is that Republicans love to point fingers at the supposed graft of Hunter Biden overseas while Trump’s children blatantly leverage their proximity to the seat of power to pad their present and future interests with promises of profit?

In advance of that flush money going out, Trump promised oversight of the stimulus package to Democrats, then snatched it away after the bill was passed. Of course, his supporters love him for things like that, because it’s just another example of Making Aggravation Go Away.

After all, it was Democrats in Congress that sought to hold Trump accountable for his criminality in seeking to coerce Ukraine into announcing an investigation into his now-confirmed political rival, Joe Biden. The goal of Trump’s digging around in Ukraine was to cast aspersions on Vice President Joe Biden by framing his son Hunter as a symbol of supposed corruption on the part of that family. Those accusations were why Trump’s so-called ‘personal attorney’ Rudy Giuliani spent months mucking around in Ukraine only to turn up nothing substantial. Granted, Hunter Biden does not sound like a prize pupil when it comes to judicious use of family influence or reputation. At one point, neither George W. Bush or John F. Kennedy were paradigms of personal virtue. Even Trump could be forgiven his past transgressions if he weren’t so ardently bent on creating new ones.

Impeachment doesn’t stick

Congress ultimately impeached Trump inaccordance with massive lines of evidence pointing back to Trump’s “perfect” phone call as perfectly corrupt. But the Republican-led Senate made the aggravation go away by refusing to conduct anything approaching an actual trial with testimony and witnesses. Instead, they simply broke the oath to do that and acquitted Trump even while several in the Senate admitted that Trump had done wrong. Once that aggravation was gone, along with the Mueller Report, Trump proceeded on his merry way of mocking his critics and calling everything with which he disagrees Fake News. That’s another tactic for making aggravations go away. Call them fake, or a hoax, and Trump supporters gobble it up like candy.

We don’t even know if Trumpism will allow his removal during a normal election if such a thing exists anymore. By many reports, the Russians are still playing games in the hinterlands of the Internet, posing as Americans and creating fake news sites to pump out pro-Trump and anti-Biden propaganda to divide Americans even further.

Low information 

But it’s not the Russians that are the real problem. It is the Make Aggravation Go Away attitudes of everyday Americans caught up in the authoritarian, nearly fascist call to defeat all those who aggravate the president in any way. This worldview is further fueled by a religious culture that for decades has attacked all that contradicts its scriptural orthodoxy. As a result nearly 40% of Americans embrace the literalistic, anti-science worldview of creationism that reduces the origins of all nature and humanity to the level of a childhood bedtime story. This is the brand of low information that has turned America into a backwater swamp of anti-intellectual populism.

No wonder so many Americans want to Fire Fauci, a medical professional who embraces actual germ theory and the evolutionary insights upon which it depends. And no wonder so many Americans want to “liberate” their state from medical strictures designed to prevent the spread of a quickly evolving virus.

In fact, Coronavirus symbolizes all the complexities that Trump supporters and their evangelical partners love to hate. In many ways, it is the aggravation to end all aggravations, a perfectly unseen enemy that propagates itself through invisible droplets and forces us to wear masks. It looks and feels like the ultimate liberal conspiracy. And if you can’t shoot it with a gun or crush it like a beer can, it surely must be some sort of Democrat conspiracy to block the ideal world Trump wants to lead us to.

Just Make Aggravation Go Away. That is the dog-whistle call of those protestors toting guns, waving both Confederate and American flags and revealing the swastika instincts of depicting The Other as the ultimate irritation in life. That’s how Hitler convinced so many that the Jews were the aggravation vexing the nation. But that brand of thinking can be applied to any other label and it still works. Immigrants. Gays. Liberals. Muslims. Tree-Huggers. Mexicans. Blacks. Indians. The list goes on forever if you let it. A nation built around eliminating aggravations is not a nation, but something else entirely.

It is evil.

 

Coronavirus is proof that creationism is a deadly worldview

Balls

The Coronavirus pandemic is not just a medical and cultural threat. It is also a lesson in theology. The idea that human beings are “specially created” beings that stand apart from the rest of nature has been blown asunder, and forever, by the fact that this virus and many thousands of others are threats to human existence and known to jump from the rest of the animal world to infect us.

So much for the creationist contention that God spares human beings from such humble roots. Our gut bacteria was already proof that we’re biologically dependent and derived from the raw stuff of creation. But this novel disease has put an all-new face on the fact that human beings share our guts and DNA with every other living thing on earth.

Denial still rules

Yet despite this biological threat to human health, there are Christians in strong denial of the dangers posed by Covid-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel Coronavirus. Some pastors have openly defied governmental orders not to assemble due to the risk of spreading the disease. Others claim that their religious freedom is being restricted by orders not to hold public gatherings. Perhaps the belief is that people sitting together in prayer are immune to the disease? But given clear evidence that church is no protection from the disease, it is legitimate to ask if pastors and other religious leaders really care if their congregations live or die? Cynics have questioned whether some of these pastors care more about the contents of the collection plate than the lives of the people in their pews.

Misguided beliefs

It is far more likely that it is the idea of giving up some aspect of religious authority that makes pastors so defiant toward the public safety recommendations issued by government, medical or scientific sources. Among all the perceived threats to orthodoxy, it is religious authority itself to which its advocates so ardently cling and become anxious, angry and resentful when challenged.

John the Baptist and Jesus both dealt with that problem in the religious authorities of their day. Martin Luther later challenged the Catholic Church over its imposition of indulgences and today’s selfish televangelists rake in millions of dollars in tithes and offerings but when a public crisis hits, their voices suddenly go silent, their church doors close, and they look for ways to blame those they hate for the crisis.

But most just hide behind the protection of their personal mansions until it is safe to come out again. In other words, they are theological hypocrites who couldn’t give a rat’s ass or a bat’s wing about the lives of people on whom they depend for their wealth.

Special creation indeed

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Perhaps these religious leaders really are encouraged to flaunt scientific and medical advice based on the biblically literal notion that human beings are “specially created” and somehow immune to a deadly disease that reputedly sprung from the flesh of bat. Instead, creationists console themselves with the biblically literal notion that God molded human flesh out of dust from the earth, and that we have nothing much to do with all that DNA and genetics stuff that connects us to the rest of the world. That’s the worldview of theological hacks like Ken Ham, progenitor of the Answers In Genesiswebsite and its expensive temples constructed to cater to his ego, the Creation Museumand The Ark Encounter.

Supposedly these websites and facilities provide answers to all of life’s pressing questions about the origins of life, including ‘science’ in the name of God. Yet during this Coronavirus pandemic not a word of insight, advice or practical solutions emanate from the likes of Ken Ham and his ham-handed assemblage of quitter scientists. They are all theological and scientific frauds hiding behind a grand excuse to make money on the creationist schtick.

Anachronism and crisis

And people die because anachronistic beliefs have nothing to offer us in the face of a medical crisis. Thoughts and prayers do nothing, or else people would be indeed huddled in churches rather than dying in overcrowded hospitals. Medicine and science works because it depends on knowledge from the theory of evolution to determine how viruses mutate, replicate and transmit from one living thing to another. It takes an idiot to choose wishful thinking over medical cures for disease. Creationism is a deadly worldview.

It is only an egotistically naive desire to feel better than the rest of nature that drives creationists to such selfish extremes. But the Coronavirus isn’t choosy about who it infects or how well they survive. It only does what it was designed to do, mutate and move on. In that respect, it seems like a heartless invention of God to create such killers. If that’s how it works, it is the religiously literal that have the most to answer for, not those who understand that the human condition is an evolutionary function just like everything else in the universe.