Raging Over Masks

For a segment of the American population, the idea of being required to wear a mask triggers outrage. Some of the outrage results in physical violence. Over a mask.

On the surface, such a reaction defies reason. But behind the curtain, there are insidious reasons, all of which are egged on by rightwing and foreign interests determined to sow chaos in this nation.

There’s the ‘freedom’ element, resistance to being ‘required’ to do anything. But why? Similar outrage is not apparent in instances of ‘required’ seat belts, or shoes and shirts in stores, or – for that matter – driving in the right lane.

There are news reports of people who claim they can’t breathe if they wear a mask, but that dog won’t hunt. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and hazmat teams wear masks every day for hours. None of them have dropped dead from oxygen starvation or carbon dioxide buildup. Yes, there may be a few with mental health issues or respiratory problems that a mask can complicate. But that’s a handful of people in the overall situation.

If we pull back the curtain further, we find massive evidence of Denial. It’s not just excuses for why a mask requirement allegedly violates someone’s freedom or that one can’t properly breathe in a mask. The denial is far more fundamental than that, and largely hidden.

Remember, for the contingent of Americans who believe in Trump, the virus started out as a Democratic hoax. It was nothing more than the flu and would disappear by April. News coverage of New York’s crisis with bodies stored in refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks or ICU beds lining hospital hallways wasn’t real, simply more of that Democratic hoax meant to scare people and mess up Trump’s chance at re-election.

Now five months in and as the infection rate soars and hospitals in several states are nearing 100% capacity, the hoax lunacy has expanded to include screaming mobs of anti-vaxxers whose sole mission is to protect all of us from a mandatory vaccine that carries microchips which will … well, that detail is rather elusive. Some claim the chips will be the ‘mark of the beast’ that prevents its carrier from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Others claim the chips will control our behavior and force us to accept the ‘New World Order’. Or most egregiously, it’s a Bill Gates plan to track everyone – because… ?

In a poll conducted May 20 and 21 by Yahoo/YouGov, 44% of Republicans said they believed the microchip conspiracy theory with Democrats checking in at 19%.[1]

A Christian Right broadcaster, Brannon Howse of “Worldview Watch,” warned that Gates and the “medical globalist deep state” were using the crisis to regulate people’s fertility depending on their worldview, through “procreation tickets” and microchips.[2]

So we have the ‘don’t tell me what to do’ mindset enhanced by the Democrats’ evil hoax and the microchip from Satan Gates himself. Some folks have even made the whole thing more concise by blaming Bill Gates for creating the virus so he could implant chips in the vaccine.

Elaborate thinking, perhaps – except it’s the result of not thinking at all.

Sadly, these conspiracy theories and rejections of facts have become fodder for political interests whose goal is to disrupt and divide the people of the United States. This has been the stated purpose of Russian disinformation campaigns for decades, but that too has become a conspiracy theory even when our best intelligence agencies confirm proof of such actions. The intelligence community is then swept into yet another conspiracy theory.

The more the far right learns (and can’t understand), the more it crafts yet another conspiracy theory. And experiences more rage.

Anger is often the result of fear, part of the adrenaline-stoked fight or flight response. Fear of the unknown, i.e. a virus or scientific process that is too hard to understand. Fear of being on the losing ‘side.’ Fear of being wrong for folks who need to feel ‘right’ in order to maintain mental stability.

With an invisible virus spreading through the population, anxiety sweeps in triggering fear. Those who are willing and able seek scientific information to help understand how the virus works, how it travels, what can prevent infection, and how he/she personally can best avoid the bug. These folks wear masks in public, stay home as much as possible, and social distance when they can’t.

But not everyone is equipped to seek out or understand scientific information and these people are more likely to be triggered into rage about wearing a mask. If these folks were capable or willing to investigate the virus instead of feeding on falsehoods promoted by Trump, they probably weren’t Trump voters to start with.

Trump voters are a strange amalgam of several sorts of people. At the core are those evangelicals who refuse to think beyond the boundaries of their religious beliefs, and those beliefs dictate saving the fetus above all else. That means a Republican vote no matter who the candidate, a constituency carefully cultivated and routinely fed hot-button rhetoric like the “Democrats want to kill babies after they’re born!”

There is no room in these minds for the rights of a woman to control her body, or the reality that abortions occurred millennia before Roe v Wade and will occur after it’s overturned, if it is. There is also no room in that lockstep for consideration of the horrific abuses perpetrated upon unwanted children, or immigrant children in cages, or children and pregnant women in places where our corporate war machines spread death and destruction on an industrial scale. Apparently ‘My Body, My Choice” slogans only apply to those who refuse to wear a mask.

Then there are those who hate government and rally behind the idea that Trump will dismantle the ‘deep state’ which describes, in their minds, a mysterious evil machinery behind all our nation’s ills. There is no room in these minds to understand how government works, no respect for people who devote entire careers to studying how chemicals in water or food affect our endocrine systems, or for people who spend every working day looking at data about our schools and whether students are learning, or the processes by which agencies can make choices about interest rates or surplus crops or weather forecasting – all of it in service to the people of our nation.

The mentalities involved in this willful ignorance and diminished reasoning capacity know somewhere deep inside they might be wrong. An internal crisis of anxiety and fear grows proportionately to the growing evidence of the possible error. When it reaches the point where their local supermarket won’t allow them through the doors without a mask, the evidence of their wrong blows up in their face.

Does that mean they suddenly realize that they were wrong? No. In defense of all the ignorance they hold dear, they rage.

Denial explains and justifies the rage. Denial that Trump is an idiot. Denial that the nation is not now nor ever was meant to be a ‘Christian’ nation, that the Republican mantra about fetuses and freedom of religion is nothing more than a political con meant to garner votes from people who are incapable of thinking for themselves. See, for example, the evangelical prediction that the world will literally end if Trump isn’t re-elected. (Footnote [3])

Other mask-ragers are people who fear losing the historical supremacy of white identity. People who still can’t admit the South justly lost the Civil War. People too lazy to pay attention to the facts, too busy or disconnected to read/watch the news from enough different sources to truly understand what is going on. These are people incapable of gathering relevant information regarding an issue, reasoning through that information, and reaching logical conclusions.

If we as a nation are going to survive the current chaos and move toward a more united, egalitarian future, each of these conditions among segments of the American population requires a focused examination of the cause and a concerted national effort to remediate the cause. These causes mean we are not equal. Without a long term determination to ‘cure’ these inequalities, they will destroy us. It’s not enough to have scientists discovering vaccines and advanced computing systems that can park cars for us. People have to understand how to apply rational processes and appreciate the logic of the scientific method.

Masks are a symbol of the truth of the virus, but they are also a symbol of the truth about Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Those who have embraced Trump deny they’ve been manipulated, misled, and used to further a political agenda that has – in reality – nothing to do with what they believe it to be. The agenda, in reality, is to further consolidate power and wealth in the hands of a few.

These folks have been played. Wearing a mask would require them to admit it.

 

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-video-microchip-coronavirus/false-claim-a-microchip-implant-will-come-with-coronavirus-vaccines-idUSKBN22R2GS

[2] https://www.typeinvestigations.org/investigation/2020/05/12/the-long-strange-history-of-bill-gates-population-control-conspiracy-theories/

[3] https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/07/evangelical-leaders-made-film-warn-world-will-literally-end-trump-isnt-reelected/

Trump — It’s About Jesus

Make no mistake. The whitewash of Trump’s many sins is not just about Republican power madness or foreign influence or money. It is those things, but mostly this is about Jesus. Finally the evangelical voter bloc can fulfill its forty-year wish list to do away with all liberal advances. No more abortion, no more gay rights, no more talk about climate change or pollution. No more mingling of the races or giving those colored folks a place at the table. No more helping hungry people with a handout they don’t deserve or helping sick people pay their medical bills.

Evangelicals — a term that today refers to people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, that the Bible is the word of God, that every believer has a “born again” or salvation moment, and that the good news of Jesus should be widely disseminated — make up as much as a quarter of the country, or close to 80 million people. Around 60 percent vote, more than any other demographic, and among white evangelical voters, more than three-quarters tend to go to Republicans, thanks to wedge issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights.[1]

During the last days of Trump’s 2016 campaign, he met with “Robert Jeffress, the head of 14,000-member megachurch First Baptist Dallas, a contributor to Fox News, and one of the earliest evangelical leaders to support Trump, presided over the meeting.

“I usually stand when he [Trump] comes in the room as a way of showing respect — he doesn’t ask that, but that’s just something that I’ve normally done,” Jeffress explained to the assembled, who included Wayne Grudem, a well-known theologian and co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Eric Metaxas, a bestselling Christian author and radio host; Ryan Anderson, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and Jay Richards, a philosopher and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that campaigns against teaching evolution in school.”

At this meeting, Trump, no doubt coached by his Republican handlers, promised to fulfill the evangelical agenda: He would end the contraception mandate of Obamacare; select only anti-choice judges; do away with the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt entities from endorsing politicians; support prayer in school; oppose any bill that pulled funding from Christian schools that were charged with discrimination; keep transgender people from using the “wrong” bathrooms and locker rooms; and protect Israel.

It’s been a long time coming, ever since the incestuous relationship between Republicans and Christian extremists joined forces under the benevolent guidance of Ronald Reagan. The power brokers behind the Republican Party figured out that if they could gain a voting block as widespread and fervent as evangelicals, they could turn back the tide of progressive change. They’d been slammed on all sides – the ‘60s generation had turned its back on the corporate agenda, passed laws forcing dirty manufacturing to clean up its messes, and was working hard to put women and minorities on an equal status with white men.

Casualty of the U.S. abandonment of Syrian Kurds, 2019.

This unholy coalition of conservatives, evangelicals, and racists developed a strategy that finally paid off with the election of Donald Trump. Now they had the whole government in their control. They quickly began reversing rules and laws and appointing federal judges who would abide by the coalition’s view of the world:

  • eliminating voting rights for blacks and the poor
  • packing the courts with extreme conservatives
  • allowing unlimited gerrymandering of voting districts
  • barricading U.S. borders against refugees (but only those who aren’t white)
  • reversing pollution controls in order to ‘ease’ the regulatory burden on corporations
  • promoting any and all efforts to reverse Roe v Wade
  • chewing off vital parts of the Affordable Care Act until they can shoot the entire act in the head
  • destroying the U.S.’s standing on the world stage, betraying allies, and doubling down on military force as the only viable foreign policy
  • accepting murderers as friends (such as Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who in absentia murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and war criminal former U.S. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher)
  • ignoring the public health crisis while ending school lunch programs that sought to reduce the nation’s childhood obesity problem

And much more, most of which serves the corporate agenda more than the evangelical. But who’s counting?

The ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ mindset of the unholy Republican coalition demonstrated its determination to push its agenda at any cost by its election of Trump despite (or because of) his racism, his corruption, his sexism, and his utter disregard for standards of personal honor or morality. The idea that Trump was God’s chosen messenger despite his history of multiple sins appealed to the evangelicals. After all, who among them had not sinned? Their entire religious outlook is based on the idea that God will forgive sin. Lo and behold, God had forgiven Trump, made him King (er, uh president), in order for him to work God’s will on the wayward United States of America.

Trump, on the other hand, knows he’s not forgiven nor has he ‘gone forth and sinned no more.’ Trump hungers for power and adoration, and he’ll say and do anything to keep that juice coming. Honest public servants who attempted to serve in his administration held onto their posts despite Trump’s tantrums and verbal abuse out of a sense of duty to the nation. The landscape is littered with their empty desks.

An overcrowded fenced area holding families at a Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center is seen in a still image from video in McAllen, Texas, U.S. on June 11, 2019 and released as part of a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on July 2, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/border-facilities/593239/

Trump has no conscience, no agenda, and no principles. He does what he’s told by advisers who put up with his out-of-control behavior because they have their own agendas. For Stephen Miller, the agenda is making America white again. There’s Jarrod Kushner, a Jew, who quietly works as ‘strategic planner’ to advance Israel at the expense of Palestine and of U.S. security in the Middle East. There’s Trump’s daughter Ivanka, possibly the only person who can actually exert some small amount of control over her father, acting as a so-called adviser for women’s issues while in reality maximizing profits for her family’s financial interests.

For Mitch McConnell and other elected lackeys, the agenda is to hang onto their elected seat in districts where the majority of voters are either evangelical, racist, or otherwise drinking the Kool-Aid so freely dispensed by the party. Going against such constituents is simply too big of a risk to take even though the 2018 congressional elections should have warned them their hold on power had become tenuous.

The Republicans cling to their long-game strategy in the belief that evangelicals will continue to sleep with the morally corrupt. Evangelicals rush along in their cognitive dissonance to embrace the idea of end times, eager to do what they can to trigger the promised apocalypse which will bring Jesus back. In this mindset, they alone will be ‘saved’ while the rest of those libtards burn in hell. So why should they listen to anything progressives might say?

Science, as always, is not to be trusted even though every day evangelicals depend on the advances science has brought to modern society. Antibiotics, x-rays, MRIs, organ transplants—nothing is too ‘modern’ to ignore when an evangelical is fighting disease and death. Cell phones, DVRs, GPS, air conditioning—nothing is off the table when it comes to comfort and entertainment even if those terrible atheist scientists might have invented it. But when the science doesn’t fit into their religious view, forget about it. God is the only one who can change the weather. God assigns gender and never intended same sex love. God favors white people—that’s the reason He blessed the United States and gave whites dominion over those red-skinned heathens who were here first.

What evangelicals fail to see through their rapturous haze is that once Trump and his enabling Republicans have broken the Constitution in order to fulfill their agenda, they and their agenda will no longer matter. With the failure of the Republican-controlled Senate to hold Trump accountable, the executive branch of the government is without limits. What that might mean for the future of our nation is too terrible to contemplate.

The unholy alliance of religion and politics has been the source of the world’s worst evils since the beginning of time. That reality was fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers. That misguided zealots now work to overturn that understanding and the protections written into our Constitution cries out for correction. It remains to be seen whether the correction will come in the 2020 election or if it will come only with another civil war.

 

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Further reading: “Trump is an anathema to everything I was taught to love about Jesus, everything I was taught about how to live out my faith. His disdain for decency, disrespect toward basic tenets of right and wrong and complete disregard for the most vulnerable among us could not be more fundamentally un-Christian. To vote for him because he sees the political expediency of supporting restrictions on abortion is a Faustian deal with the devil that is ultimately more likely to exact greater cost than reward.” https://time.com/5775440/donald-trump-evangelical-opposition/

[1] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/christian-right-worships-donald-trump-915381/

How to Grow More Ignorance in Arkansas

Arkansas continues to shoot itself in the foot with the recent passage of new regulations governing home schooling. As a new year begins, public hearings on the latest revisions are open only through January 17. After the public comment period, assuming comments fail to arouse concerns at the Arkansas Department of Education (under the leadership of evangelical Christian Johnny Key), the new rules will be submitted to the state Education Board for approval.

Members of the evangelical right have taken an increasingly militant stance about public education. Partly white flight from integration, partly concern over exposure to gay or minority students and the so-called liberal agenda, and partly public school difficulty in maintaining high educational standards in the face of inadequate funding alongside demand for extraordinary services in mainlining students with special needs, reasons abound for conservative parents to seek alternatives.

But by far the greatest reason for parents choosing to homeschool is their determination to teach religion. Evidently church alone isn’t enough to satisfy this need.

According to the surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 91 percent of homeschooling parents are more concerned about the environment of schools and want to offer a religious (64 percent) and/or moral (77 percent) alternative.

Smaller-scale studies of parental attitudes have found the same thing, from the conservative fathers who try to form a moral cocoon around their children, to African-American families who want to foster a sense of racial pride in their children, to “quiverfull” families trying to have enough children to Christianize the United States by demographic transformation.[1]

Obviously none of these interests coincide with the need for good citizenship in a blended American society.

In Arkansas, where fundamentalist religious teachings flourish under the guidance of such groups as the Family Council (a conservative research, advocacy, and education organization), the self-explanatory Clark County Christian Home School Organization, and the even more self-explanatory Texarkana Organization for the Resolute Christian Homeschoolers, state lawmakers have signed off on the radical Christian agenda.

On the surface, it might seem a worthy effort to give parents more control over the education of their children. After all, parents love their children and want what’s best for them. The problem lies in the parents’ judgment about what is ‘best.’

Is it best for parents to be the sole instructor and judge of their children’s education? Is it best to prioritize religious beliefs over the U. S. Constitution? What if parents don’t care much about history or math or computer skills, but prefer their children only understand the Bible?

What is the responsibility of the state to ensure that it doesn’t end up with a significant number of young adults incapable of holding down a job, getting along with their neighbors, or functioning as a thoughtful voter?

The latest round of regulations, promulgated during the 2017 legislative session, clarifies requirements for homeschoolers moving in or out of the public schools  and in particular their participation in sports and other extracurricular programs. (Never underestimate the importance of football—and, to a lesser extent, other sports—as the state’s second religion.) As the numbers of homeschoolers have grown, so has the burning need to allow an overlap of public school football and homeschoolers.

Most importantly to anyone concerned about the nation’s future and the potential for our very own religious war, the new regulations remove the state entirely from any oversight of homeschoolers.

“[The statute] eliminates all state-mandated testing and reporting of courses taught and grades earned.”[2]

No one will know if home schooled students are learning any of the reasoning skills or basic facts essential to the maintenance and advancement of our society. No one knows or apparently even cares whether the parents are capable of teaching or well-educated themselves. Most of all, no one seems to care that isolated segments of the population are being given free rein to seclude themselves harboring potentially seditious motivations.

Parents wishing to cloak their children in fundamentalist Christian beliefs can blithely ignore scientific evidence of the earth’s geologic age or evolution of species. They can sidestep entirely the subject of human reproduction and its greater context in biology. Thousands may emerge from their ‘education’ with no knowledge of how babies are made or the use of birth control, much less how lifetimes of suffering might be avoided through pre-natal testing.

No one will know if students are learning that government is evil. No one will interfere if children are taught to ignore the political process or the vital responsibilities of citizenship. The state is stepping back, washing their hands, of the original dictates of the nation’s earliest leaders who recognized the importance of education. Will any of these children, or their parents for that matter, comprehend the urgent truth in the statements of our Founding Fathers?

George Washington: “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

James Madison:  “Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

John Jay: “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at at cheap and easy rate.”

James Madison: “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on each on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. …Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Surely not all homeschooled children will turn out to be close-minded religious zealots incapable of reasoned understanding of complex issues such as immigration, minority rights, or the nuances of gender and sexual orientation. But as the numbers of homeschoolers continue to increase in Arkansas and the state continues to back off any meaningful oversight, the potential for rabidly ignorant and potentially treasonous segments of our population increase exponentially.

[From a 2012 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]: The latest count of home-schooled students in Arkansas shows about 400 more students are learning at home compared to the previous year. The Arkansas Education Department said 16,405 students completed the 2011-2012 school year as home-schooled students. That’s compared with 16,003 in the prior year. …State records show that in 1986, 572 students were home-schooled in Arkansas. By 1992, the number was 3,140, and by 2002, 12,497 students were being taught at home. The 16,405 children home-schooled last academic year is equal to 3.5 percent of the state’s 468,000 public school students.[3]

The count in 2017 was 19,000.

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To voice your concerns, view the draft rules at http://bit.ly/2BTClJb or email your thoughts to ADE.RulesComments@arkansas.gov

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Yes, I’ve blogged about similar topics before.

The Poverty of Conservatism

Conscious Evolution

Treason in the Name of God is Still Treason

A Sword Cuts Both Ways

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[1] https://newrepublic.com/article/122987/does-homeschooling-make-children-more-religious

[2] “Home-school rules redo gives parents more rein,” by Cynthia Howell. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition, December 30, 2017. Page 5

[3] “Number of home-schoolers in state rises again,” Associated Press. Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 10, 2012.

The Homeschool Plague

dreamstime_xs_6706052

Last week the Arkansas Department of Education announced a public comment period on the implementation of new rules regarding home schooled students. The comment period ends June 29. If you haven’t commented already, don’t worry. Your comment won’t make much difference. These rules are mere housekeeping details in the wake of legislation enacted over the last few years which remove any accountability in home schooling.

Previously the state paid for standardized testing to assess student progress at specified points along the educational path, including home schooled students. But the teeth were removed from that effort when the state failed to institute any meaningful follow-up if the student performed badly on those tests. Now even the testing will cease to exist.

Touted as a money saving measure, the legislation actually satisfies a long-sought goal of the religious right. That is, nobody is going to tell my kid we’re descended from monkeys. And so forth.

As recently attested in a Texas court case, “…A lower court ruling allowed for Texas homeschoolers to legally teach their children absolutely zilch if they believe their family is waiting to be raptured.” Texas counts over 300,000 homeschooled students. There, in a nutshell, is the problem with Texas.[1]

An Arkansas family wishing to home school is able to choose their own curricula, accredited or not, pursue the education at whatever pace they wish, and accept whatever outcome suits their personal whim. The Arkansas law still stands that a child between the ages of five and seventeen must be educated, but for homeschooling devotees, this is sidestepped very easily.  Parents must sign a form stating they will homeschool. Period.

Currently in Arkansas, over 18,000 students are homeschooled. Undoubtedly not all 18,000 homeschooled students are failed utterly by the state’s willful abandonment of oversight. Some parents have reasons other than fundamentalist religion to homeschool—a child’s disabilities, perhaps, or the conviction that non-traditional education better serves their parental goals. Many parents may work hard to ensure their homeschooled child gains skills needed to enter college and/or otherwise pursue a successful life. Many homeschooling parents choose standardized tests to measure their children’s progress.

Unfortunately for the future, recent surveys show that the “most important reason” parents give to homeschool is “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36%). Typically the religious belief being represented is evangelical Christian.”  In these homeschool situations, modern scientific knowledge—geologic age of the planet, for example—is disregarded. Math and critical thinking are not highly prized. The objective is that the child obtain minimal literacy so he or she can read the Bible.

Or, put another way, the Koran.

Arkansas students in public schools are regularly tested so that if they are failing to learn, their school can provide remediation. No such option exists for homeschooled students. If they are failing to learn, the state doesn’t know or care.

The problem is bigger than homeschooled students. Non-accredited private and parochial schools also escape state oversight. If a school is not receiving tax dollars, it does not have to meet state standards. Whatever they teach and whatever the students may know or not know at the point of ‘graduation’ is beyond the state’s purview.

All this irrational fear of compulsory state education feeds the rising plague of intentional ignorance. It undergirds the success of extremist conservative politics. These folks don’t believe in global warming because they have no comprehension of science. To them, state standards are part of a humanist conspiracy to stamp out religion.

If only.

As far back as Ancient Greece, leaders advocated for compulsory education that started kids learning at age six. By the 16th century, European church leaders enforced compulsory education to ensure that people could read the Scriptures. Colonial governments in early American settlements required education as well, a practice that spread with the growth of the nation. These were largely private, tuition supported efforts. As more immigrants arrived through the 19th century, support grew for tax-supported schools that could provide education for rich and poor alike. The last state to pass compulsory education laws was Mississippi (1919), a circumstance perhaps reflected even today in that state’s continuing struggle to move out of last place in just about everything.

Compulsory education was good while it lasted.

The first challenge arose in 1925 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while the state had the right to enforce certain standards, it could not eliminate the right of parents to place their children in parochial or private schools. Generally, however, it was upheld through this and other legal actions that while states may grant exemptions for home schooling, that schooling must meet the standards required of public and state-accredited private schools.

This is no longer the case in Arkansas, one of fifteen states which require only notification of intent to preschool. As long as a parent signs that one form, they are free to home school in any way they desire. There is no follow-up, no checkpoint, no tests. Nobody looks in to see if the parents are teaching anything. There is no safety net.

While one might assume that parents want the best for their children and that any well-intentioned parent understands that education holds the key to a child’s successful future, one might be wrong. Some parents do not care and may select the homeschool route simply to avoid waking up early and getting the kid ready for school. Some parents may embark on homeschooling for vague reasons and fail utterly in selecting and teaching adequate curricula.

Worst of all are parents who intentionally subvert their child’s education in order to satisfy reactionary belief systems based on religious faith. Such parents are deluded with the idea that God is coming soon, or God tells them whatever they need to know, or that the holy scriptures are all the education anyone needs. (Feel free to substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ in the preceding sentence.) The results are staggering: young adults unable to function even in minimum wage jobs, unable to reason through simple logical processes, and incapable of thinking past whatever dogma is imposed on them.

Which is—sadly—the objective.

That the State of Arkansas has disgraced itself by falling to such a low non-standard in its education of young people correlates exactly with the rise of extremist Republican government. It does not bode well for the state’s future. The greater the number of intentionally ignorant citizens, the higher the likelihood of more extremists being elected to public office. It’s difficult to imagine how far the state might fall.

But wait! We may not fall that far. We’re already damn near the bottom.

Surely there is legal remedy for this descent into religious lunacy. I propose that would-be voters be required to have obtained a GED or high school diploma. Literacy tests were ruled unconstitutional when used in southern states as a racial barrier, but if the standard were applied equally to all races, that objection would fail.

Democracy depends on reasoned political discourse and informed voters. It’s in the national interest that elections be conducted fairly. Neither bribes nor brainwashing nor willful ignorance should be allowed to subvert the democratic process.

We all suffer when young people aren’t taught to read, think, and process information in ways that are necessary in most types of employment. We suffer when people don’t understand and respect differences of race, ethnicity, or gender. We suffer when extremist religion dominates all other aspects of life.

We can see what the rule of extremist religion accomplishes for a nation by looking at the Middle East and even at the acts of extremists here at home. Fear is the first reaction in someone confronted with something he or she doesn’t understand. The next reaction after fear is hate. After hate comes violence.

With violence comes the downfall of civilization.

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[1] Texas is one of nine states where parents are required to give no notice to the state as to their intention to homeschool. Arkansas is one of fifteen states where parents must only give notice of their intent. For a map showing all states and homeschool requirements, visit here.

Photo credit: Credit: ID 6706052 © Ron Sumners | Dreamstime.com

The Threat of Willful Ignorance

willful ig

There’s an ignored bigger picture behind the by-now worn out topic of the Duggar family’s hidden sex abuse scandal. In case you missed it, the vaunted head of that household stated last week that when he found out about his son’s incestuous molestation of several sisters, he spoke about it with his peers at church. “Most of them told me their sons had done the same thing to their daughters so we didn’t think it unusual or cause for great concern.”

That’s right. He said that.

For someone not of similar mindset, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand how anyone could be that stupid. In what world, religious cult or not, is it acceptable for a teenage brother to molest his younger sisters? Duggar clarified by adding “This wasn’t rape or anything like that.”

Pardon me while I quietly lose my breakfast. Yes, Jim Bob, it was precisely ‘anything’ like that.

[This space left blank for lengthy rant.]

[One of several excellent commentaries about the victimization and objectification of women within extreme-right religions can be found here.]

Moving on to the less obvious point: Is this radical subculture of the religious community simply less intelligent than the rest of us?

Actually, yes, Virginia, there is a correlation between low intelligence, prejudice, and conservative beliefs.[1] Lower capacity for analytical thinking increases the perceived risk of complicated situations. More than one study has found that “strict right-wing ideology might appeal to those who have trouble grasping the complexity of the world.” This is especially true for those raised with the sets of rules inherent in legalistic or evangelic fundamentalist faiths.

In these circles, the only ‘information’ that matters is the Bible. “The Bible says” typically precedes angry proclamations about the sin of homosexuality, abortion, or same-sex marriage. The Bible says God created the world in six days, so evolution can’t be true. The Bible says women are made to serve men, so that means women belong to men. With the Book of Revelations detailing how God will end the world, why should anyone listen to that gobbledygook about global warming?

There is no argument that can penetrate beyond that stubborn wall of self-ordained righteousness. It doesn’t matter if the stated belief is not exactly what the Bible says, or if the Bible also says other things that mitigate or even conflict. It doesn’t matter if the Bible could, shockingly, not be the actual Word of God but instead a collection of folk tales borrowed from older cultures and passed down through narration before finally being written down by men who had their own ideas about what it all meant and didn’t hesitate to edit in order to ‘clarify’ or emphasize a specific meaning. All well intentioned of course, as were the nuances inserted in later translations and transcriptions over the intervening two thousand years.

That the Bible is not the literal Word of God simply does not compute. La la la, I can’t hear you. That God might not be a male patriarch with a flowing white beard or in fact an actual physical presence at all is similarly incomprehensible. These beliefs are seared into the hearts and souls of religious extremists. Losing those beliefs would be a form of death more threatening than physical death because the beliefs promise the eternal existence of ‘self’ if only the Word is obeyed.

Along with facing the challenges of rational analysis and increasingly complicated social constructs, people raised in conservative religions are taught that learning isn’t necessarily a Godly pursuit. After all, wasn’t Original Sin about knowing too much? God guides each person’s life to the challenges that will increase his or her faith, and there’s a risk that too much learning would cause one not to listen to God’s will. This has been the reasoning behind Michelle Duggar’s production of nineteen children following a miscarriage which signaled, in her mind, God’s anger for her use of birth control.

This is not to say that spiritual beliefs and intelligence are mutually exclusive. Many learned men and women past and present embrace and benefit from faith traditions. Yet history shows us that in societies ruled by religious extremists, people were tortured to death for speaking openly in contradiction to the then-known ‘facts’—for example, that the world was flat, or that the heavenly bodies revolved around the earth.

Climate change, men on the moon, a woman’s right to decide what happens inside her own body? These are complicated topics which require a grasp of basic scientific and/or legal principles. Not only are extremist children underserved by (preferred) home schooling, they are (apparently) products of a gene pool less likely to possess the intellectual capacity for learning and utilizing advanced reasoning skills. They are actively trained not to develop such skills in the risk of angering God.

Observers might surmise that behind such intellectual laziness is not only a blind trust in God’s ability to steer seven billion lives through minute-by-minute monitoring down to whether Michelle used birth control but also—more importantly—the urgent and secret desire not to be responsible. Inborn or learned, inadequate reasoning ability fosters an insecurity that predisposes its victims toward herd behavior. The world is simply too much to understand. Who can know enough to decide what to do?

The solution is to put all faith in God and don’t worry about it. Read the Bible again. Come the Rapture, they’ll get their reward and rest of us heathens will burn in hell.

If it stopped there, if these folks simply led quiet lives holy by their own definition, there would be little cause for alarm. But that’s not the case.

They want to take over the country.

They won’t be happy until homosexuals are ‘cured’ and women submit to male authority. We’re left to wonder, if they did manage to achieve their heartfelt goal, which of the disciplines would be banned first: Geology with its flagrant rejection of Biblical chronology claiming the earth is only 6000 years old? Physics with its insistence on the Big Bang theory? Psychology with its exploration of human motivations and denials?

Can we muster any sympathy for the intentionally benighted who don’t understand how climate change can be real when it snowed six inches just last night?

The Duggar sex scandal made big news because for nearly a decade, the family has presented itself to the American public as the model of Christian piety. For those who reacted to the show with disbelief and disgust, it’s been a moment of breathless irony. For their sympathetic fans, the reaction to their fall from grace has been an angry spate of straw-man arguments—the publicity re-victimizes the sisters, the release of information was illegal (not), the poor young man already said he was sorry. A clear-eyed view of the hypocrisy, criminality, and deception involved is simply not possible for those wallowing in their own ignorance.

For the rest of us, the Duggar debacle shines a light on the cesspit of rightwing politics. The family’s celebrity rewarded them with money they’ve used to support extremist political candidates. With his GED in hand, Josh achieved placement among the ranks of the nation’s top extremist political lobbying organization, the Family Research Council. All of them—the Duggars, the rightwing legislators, the Family Research Council—seem oblivious to the elephant in their highly moral living room—that is, the incessant proof of their own immorality.

Leaders in the movement have made their objective clear. Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, cited the movement’s strategy that “…if just eight million American Christians began supplying more ‘arrows for the war’ by having six children or more, they propose that the Christian Right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century.”  A stated objective of such an effort is to increase the number of conservatives in Washington.[2]

Extreme religionists cannot fathom the connection between their political choices and the troubled state of their own communities. The largely white, low income, less educated ranks of the religious right are the same populations that rank highest in need of government handouts: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. They have the highest rates of divorce, child hunger, child abuse, and alcoholism/drug addiction. They have the highest use of Internet pornography. They have more reproductive services restrictions and more teen pregnancy, more high school dropouts and lower levels of education which go hand in hand with lower average incomes. More of these populations are in poor health, obese, and—inanely—resent the Affordable Care Act for providing health insurance.

These facts simply do not compute for the willfully ignorant. Any suffering by the extremists and their neighbors surely means that God is testing them. It might even anger God if they did anything to remove this suffering. That’s why government programs meant to provide assistance to those in need are high on the fundamentalist hate list.

The extremists do not understand that their myth of a Christian nation is contrary to the Founding Fathers’ intent. The concept of separation of church and state eludes them. Don’t bother them with facts or quotes from the U. S. Constitution. They lack the capacity to imagine how they would feel if a religion other than Christianity took control of the nation.

The urgent desire to “get back America” among religious extremists may stem from the creeping realization (despite heroic efforts at denial) that their beliefs somehow fail to inoculate them from sinning. They still molest boys in their care (Hastert). They still commit adultery (Gingrich and too many to name). They still participate in homosexual behavior (CA State Sen. Roy Ashburn, among the many).

In a perfect world by their definition, government would help Christians adhere to the straight and narrow by enforcing God’s law through the power of the state. Efforts to warn of the tragedy inherent in theocracies fall on deaf ears. Don’t they see what’s going on in the Middle East?

drink copyPerhaps a form of transference drives the fundamentalists’ need to force everyone else to the extremist way of life in the largely unconscious assumption that it’s the homosexuals and transgenders who somehow infect the good people with sin. Such a concept is discernible in the upwelling of “religious freedom” laws, as if baking a cake for a same-sex wedding somehow rubs the sin of gayness off on the baker.

Did Jesus refuse to touch the leper or prostitute? Evidently these folks don’t read their own literature.

But then, what can be expected of those who are uncomfortable with or incapable of approaching any topic on a logical basis? Sin is a result of demons who come to sit on our shoulders, and we must pray to cast them out. There is no personal responsibility. God wills it or Satan is in control.

Legislators placed in office by zealots do not understand, refuse to acknowledge, and/or refuse to participate in the basic principles of informed debate or negotiated compromise, foundations of a democratic representative government. This enormous beam in the rightwing’s eye results in treasonous acts such as newly-elected zealot Senator Tom Cotton’s direct communication with Iran intended to disrupt the multi-nation negotiation on nuclear energy.

The rest of us have failed to fully recognize or effectively counter the threat. There’s been an underlying hesitancy to criticize those who proclaim themselves avid Christians, especially among more moderate Christians. “19 Kids and Counting” has been one of several exposures of this lifestyle to the public view which has brought little to no public censure. Rather, the program resulted in a bemused sense of wonder that anyone could have that many kids. Why worry? These are the good people, aren’t they?

Do we really think these extremists will stop at some point, fold up their tents, and let the rest of us live our lives as we see fit? Come to their senses? Actually comprehend Christ’s teachings about loving their neighbors and not judging?

10000 copyCan we accept the Christian nation these fearful, ignorant extremists envision? What’s the distance between the current effort to “take back America” and armed conflict? The instinctive reaction of people who see themselves as cornered and fighting for a ‘holy’ cause is to stockpile weapons. It’s no coincidence that those most vehement about guns and open carry are also eager to rant about secession or claim there are “10,000 pastors” ready to die for the cause.[3]

We may think the Duggars benign, an isolated amusement that crops up on our television screen. Peculiar, out of sync, quaint—doing their best to be good in a difficult world. It’s past time to sit up and realize they and their kind are about as benign as misdiagnosed cancer.


[1] Pappas, Stephanie. “Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice,” Live Science. January 26, 2012 http://www.livescience.com/18132-intelligence-social-conservatism-racism.html

[2] Blumberg, Antonia. “What You Need To Know About The ‘Quiverfull’ Movement,” The Huffington Post 5/26/2015.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/26/quiverfull-movement-facts_n_7444604.html