Monday, November 08, 2004

Faith-Based Folks

I spent Saturday doing community service at the Montessori school, raking leaves and picking up trash*, in lovely November weather, sunny and cold, and I’m feeling better now.

Here’s what I had been thinking: that it was hopeless. Junior had been elected by Faith-based voters. Being that they were Faith-based, we were doomed. Faith-based electors do not learn from experience – they can’t. They are not like empirical-thinkers.

You and I – that is, if you are, like I am, dedicated to the enlightenment doctrine and the empirical world – you and I believe that we should base our decisions on this world here, on what happens here.

That is, we should watch what happens in this world here, base our conclusions on what is happening here, and change our behavior accordingly.

To take a specific example: sex education. Right now two kinds of sex education are being taught in most public education systems: abstinence-only and abstinence-based.

Abstinence-only (the kind the Fundamentalists insist is the only kind we should use) teaches only about abstinence. The only thing it has to say about contraception – at all – is that it doesn’t work. (That’s right. It doesn’t work, ever: that’s what these classes tell kids. That’s all the teachers in these classes are allowed to tell kids.) This is the sort of sex-education that gets taught in Texas and most other Southern states – except in Arkansas, let me hastily add, where we teach no sex education at all, nor any driver’s ed either, which is why we have such a high death rate among our teens. I get ten or fifteen essays a semester about How My Best Friend Died On the Highway, and of course half my students have babies.

Abstinence-based sex-education, on the other hand, stresses that abstinence is the best way to go about it, and gives the student all the reasons why having sex before marriage is a really bad idea, but then goes on to teach the student about the various forms of contraception, how to obtain them, how to use them, and what they will and won’t do.

Guess which form of sex-education works best at prevent the spread of STDs and results in a lower rate of abortion and teen pregnancy?

Better than that, guess which method results in children have their first sexual encounter at a later age?

But faith-based folk aren’t interested in looking at the data that show that abstinence-based sex education works better than abstinence-only. They also aren’t interested in the evidence that shows that the abortion rates have gone up during George Junior’s presidency.

They are only interested in the knowledge, which they already have, that sex before marriage is wrong, that contraception is wrong, and that the only way to teach sex education, therefore, is to tell people that.

How do they know these two things? Through revealed knowledge.

These folk know what they know because Jesus Told Them So.

It’s on their bumper stickers – go check.

“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Except, of course, none of them actually have a clue what God said – none of them have actually read the Bible. That’s why they think the Bible think abortion is wrong, when there isn’t a word in the Bible about abortion. (Just for fun, here's for citations on that: That’s also why they think Jesus is for capital punishment and killing Iraqis – all those verses in the Sermon on the Mount about slaughtering your enemies and killing those who had done wrong to you.

No, they don’t have a clue what’s actually in their text. (Which, by the way, actually does require them to pay attention empirical evidence. Check out Matthew 7.20: by their fruits you shall know them. Jesus actually did require them to be empirical thinkers. But of course that's way too hard.)

So what they are substituting for God’s revealed knowledge is Some Guy’s revealed knowledge – Some Guy – usually their preacher, or, in this case, George Junior himself, assures them that he has the Word from God, and –

They believe it. That settles it.

No further data needed.

Who cares if abstinence actually does have a failure rate – if, that is, kids turn out, surprise, surprise, to be not very good at not having sex?

Who cares if giving tax cuts to the rich turns out not to stimulate the economy?

Who cares if global warming actually does turn out to be happening?

Who cares if dumping mercury into the ecosystem actually does turn out to have a really bad effect on our children?

Who cares if two or three companies owning all the media systems in the United States has a really bad effect on free speech in this country?

Who cares if the Patriot Act smashes our civil liberties?

Who cares if destroying a woman’s access to education, family planning, and economic independence virtually guarantees her children will suffer a higher rate of poverty?

George said it would be fine. They believe it. That settles it.

In which case nothing that happens over the next four years – or the next forty – is going to make any difference.

In which case my beautiful little daughter, who is so brilliant it would make your eyes sting, who knew the words mythological and excessive and persuasive when she was three years old (and the word fuck, too, okay, I admit it), who’s a little Aikido warrior and wants to be either a paleontologist or mama or an English professor or a snowball maker, is heading straight for an American Taliban.

This is all what I had been thinking on Friday.

But on Saturday I cheered up a little.

Because the Revealed-Knowledge thinkers aren’t all of the 51% of American voters who elected this faith-based president. (And I do think he is a revealed-knowledge, faith-based operator, and I do think that is exactly what’s wrong with him, and anyone who has voted for him thinking he’s anything else needs a bitch-slap, in my humble opinion.) I think, probably, I was speculating, hopefully, well, probably, no more than 15 to 20% of his base is made up of that sort of thinker.

Anyway, that’s what I was wistfully hoping, on Saturday, raking leaves.

It made me feel better then.

*Speaking of which, what is up with littering these days? When I was a kid, it was one of the seven deadly sins. These days people thinking nothing of it. I saw a student on campus last week toss an empty soda can on the ground five feet from a trash can. And when another student called her on it, she sneered and said, “That’s why I pay for groundskeepers.” I also see kids at the local parks throwing their candy wrappers on the ground: their parents don’t say a word to them. I blame Republicans. Specifically, the Ann Coulter type of Republican, who believe that God gave them the Earth not to take care of, but to rape. Coulter’s exact quote: "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'"---Hannity & Colmes, 6/20/01.

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