The Wacky World of Liberal Fundamentalism
The candidacies of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Bible-affirming Christians, predictably have ignited the liberal media's zeal for exposing their allegedly odd if not wacko religious beliefs (see here). Support for some version of creationism, a faith in the efficacy of prayer, and actual belief in scriptural condemnation of homosexuality (among other religious views) are taken as prima facie evidence of presidential unsuitability. To be sure, millions of Americans (assumed to be ill-educated trailer-court denizens with rotting teeth and beer guts) may share these odd inclinations, but, at least according to liberal pundits, holding them betrays a lack of intellectual sophistication plus an aversion to modern science. Such antediluvian fundamentalism should, say the experts, have gone extinct with the Scopes Monkey Trials.
Ironically, liberal attackers are guilty of far greater unscientific dogmatism, sloppy thinking, and mind-boggling confusion but fail to notice it thanks to a manufactured respectability that deters -- if not forbids -- close inspection. Worse, judged by the unforgiving standards of science, the liberal creed may be far wackier (and factually incorrect) than any assertion about God creating the world in seven days. The war between secular liberalism and evangelical fundamentalism is a battle between competing dogmas, not science versus religious hokum.
What is this weird liberal creed? Unlike the orthodox Christian rival, it is not yet officially codified, but its major tenets are easily discerned. Just regularly read the New York Times or watch CNN. Let's begin with Conviction I: what I call Liberal Creationism or, as the oft-invoked cliché, people are the same all over.
According to this gospel, modern humans emerged roughly 180,000 years ago in Africa and eventually populated almost the entire globe. According to evolution, via mutations and selective breeding, humans adapted to varied conditions. For example, in colder climates, white skin and blue eyes facilitated vitamin D absorption. So far, so good. But, though evolution tells us that traits most valuable for survival are more susceptible to change, the human brain remains fixed despite thousands of years of evolutionary pressure in widely unlike settings. Yes, pygmies in central African may be anatomically unlike Swedes, but the brains are identical. So, send the pygmies to Sweden and enroll them in Swedish schools and provide all the benefits of Swedish society, and after a generation or two they will be just like Swedes, albeit a bit shorter and with a darker complexion (or send Swedes to central Africa and they will become blond, blue-eyed "pygmies").
It then follows, according to this Liberal Creed, that those differences in educational attainment, income and social status, and even crime rates and other pathologies must be artificial. If third-generation pygmies living in Sweden lag behind their taller countrymen, the only explanations are discrimination, racism, lack of opportunities, and similar fixable environmental obstacles. Going one step further, since all people have the same brains, equality of intellectual accomplishment is human nature. A multi-billion-krona initiative by the Swedish government to bring pigmies up to the Swedish average in income and education does not contravene nature; it is a social engineering enterprise to restore, not reverse the human default condition of equality. And, the Liberal Creed tells us, this will be accomplished only if Swedes are willing to make the effort.
This, then, brings us to Conviction II, the wonders of Diversity: though all groups share the identical brain, it is beneficial to have lots of people around who differ by outward appearances -- in skin color, hair texture, facial features, bone densities, body shapes, even selective susceptibility to diseases. The Liberal Creed is, sadly, a bit hazy on how all this synergy works, but rest assured: if one needs to build a better spaceship, one should assemble a team of engineers that includes a few Hispanics, lots of women, some blacks, a handful of Asians, perhaps a Polynesian or two, and a few white males. The ultra-orthodox Liberal Creed might add a few gays and disabled.
Conviction III concerns immigration and might be called the Doctrine of Benign Filtration. Here's how it works. First, all immigrants coming to the US -- no exceptions! -- can make a valuable cultural contribution, things like good Vietnamese or Mexican restaurants. For this reason, it is important that cultural heritages -- everything from language to the celebration of religious holidays -- be preserved. This conservancy is what makes the US such a vibrant multicultural mosaic. But, and this is critical, while the good elements (e.g., the food, religious festivals) will survive assimilation, bad features of a culture -- for example, religiously sanctioned wife-abuse -- will be (mysteriously) weeded out. Again, how this selective adjustment is to occur is unclear, perhaps just as Rick Perry's prayers will miraculously end the Texas draught.
And now we come to Conviction IV: the Almighty. Don't believe liberals claiming to be secularists. They have a god, and this is, rest assured, a God that will put all rival deities to shame. In a nutshell, this god of the Liberal Creed is all-knowing, all-powerful, and combines the best features of the vengeful God of the Old Testament with a Santa Claus on steroids. To invoke the Newspeak vocabulary, let's call this deity Fedgov.
Fedgov's power is breathtaking. Among other miraculous powers, it can provide low-cost universal health care without bankrupting the nation; bestow college degrees on all youngsters regardless of intellectual ability; abolish race-related gaps in academic achievement and income, eliminate the lingering vestiges of racism, sexism and discrimination; solve the problems of poverty; provide unlimited quantities of "green" energy; end festering economic inequality; supply decent housing and healthy nutrition to all Americans; and otherwise bring a liberal heaven on earth. To be sure, Fedgov may require more than just a single day of rest after accomplishing all this, but it is possible. It just requires faith and a willingness to allow Fedgov to work its miracles free from Tea Party obstruction (perhaps Tea Party "atheists" should be burnt at the stake to please Fedgov).
It is impossible to exaggerate the cosmology's weak empirical underpinnings. In many instances -- e.g., eliminating poverty and myriad inequalities -- Fedgov has always failed despite spending hundreds of billions. Elsewhere -- e.g., low-cost universal health care -- the prayed-for miracle rests solely on deceitful accounting. And like the fervent Creationists, Fedgov environmentalists want to ignore libraries of scientific evidence and inescapable economic principles in their confusion of "ought" with "is."
But, more is needed that just drawing parallels between Liberal and Christian Fundamentalism. Better would be to turn the tables on orthodox liberals with "gotcha" questions just as they try to embarrass Michele Bachmann. A few samples useful for upcoming TV debates:
President Obama, your administration has taken several steps to diversify the federal workforce. Can you offer any scientific evidence that a diverse workforce, whether in government or private industry, provides any economic benefit that outweighs the bureaucratic costs?
Vice President Biden, why should the federal government continue to pour hundreds of billions into anti-poverty programs when the evidence strongly suggests that trying to uplift the underclass is futile and only breeds further dependency?
President Obama, what evidence do you have that after two generations, immigrants from Mexico can fully assimilate into American society and become less dependent on public welfare?
Needless to say, few questions of this type will elicit scientifically sound answers. Most will reflect moral imperatives -- e.g., Fedgov ought to try to eliminate income inequality. Other responses will cherry-pick evidence, just as Creationists have their favorite facts. In the final analysis, debates may return to an earlier era of religious strife -- my Faith is just better than yours. Amen.