Incredibly Religious

I recently returned from a week at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Hiking the back trails of the great ancient gorge has been a nearly annual ritual for the past 39 years. There were five of us this year and a lot of nervous jokes about knee replacement surgery, the miracle of Flexeril, Vicodin drips, failing memory — “I don’t remember this thing being this deep … ” — and recollections of characters we’ve run into in years past. Like the rafting party nine or ten years ago led by, swear to God, some creationist preacher describing in ludicrous detail to his dozen or so wide-eyed client/chumps how the various layers of sediment, 5000 feet of them, were cut by the hand of the Lord Almighty in six short days, pretty much exactly as it says in the Bible.

The list of reasons for this hiking ritual is pretty long. But quietude is high up there. I like places where if you stop, calm your breathing and listen, the only sound is that of your own blood pulsing in your ears. The combination of that kind of tranquility and the long hours of exposure to blistering sun, jagged rock, flesh-ripping yucca and cactus gives the mind uninterrupted opportunities to mull … on the rampant, appalling bullshit up beyond the rim.

Prior to leaving, in fact in my bag on the plane to Las Vegas, was a copy of my nominee for the Post of the Year. Titled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a Republican Operative Who Left the Cult”, it was written by Michael Lofgren a 30-year staffer for the Republican House and Senate Budget Committees. No fan of Democrats or Barack Obama, Lofgren’s view from inside the belly of the modern Republican beast — a creature vastly different and devolved than the one he joined up with three decades earlier — is vivid, spot-on and unsparing.

His indictment of what the Republican party has become will of course outrage every conservative wedded more to electioneering than caring if what the party is selling these days makes any sense, Social Contract-wise. But among Lofgren’s indictments of his party was this:

3. Give me that old-time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.” …

It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.

Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires. …

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

The drive from Vegas to the North Rim of the Canyon requires passing through tiny, otherwise unremarkable Colorado City, Arizona, best known as Ground Zero for hyper-conservative religious Mormon pedophile/convict Warren Jeffs and his cult of uber-Mormon like believers. It’s a place where Old Tyme Religion has allowed a few ruthless alpha males to collect themselves a comely flock of child brides … under the banner of heaven, as Jon Krakauer put it in his book. (Being damned funny guys another ritual of ours requires our lone female hiking companion to get out and stroll about at the Merry Wives convenience store, just to see if she’s still got the magic to attract a suitor, wear a bonnet and submit to some good old fashion gender servitude.)

The cult of Colorado City is of course ridiculously medieval, yet little different from the credulous rafters soaking up the claptrap theo-geology lessons from their no doubt nicely remunerated float leader. But Warren Jeffs’ Colorado City is also only a couple of microns off the beam from the now normalized religiosity of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and the whole evolution-denying, gay-intolerant, climate change scoffing modern GOP.

Not that mainstream religion offers any hope of tamping down this fear-borne nonsense.

Flash ahead to Neal Conan’s “Talk of America” show of last Thursday, with his guest panel of “Biblical scholars”. Submitted for our consideration as credible experts on religion, it produced instead a “Twilight Zone”-like spasm of dumbfoundedness. Here were a handful of America’s serious thinkers on religious matters arguing over the historical veracity of creation and original sin … you know, Adam and Eve and the talking snake. In fairness, one panelist was struggling to assert the compatibility of science and Biblical doctrine. But he was pretty well smothered by the “scholarly” view that faith — which could be your devout belief in a week of Creation, a stable of child brides or talking snakes — is every bit as valid, and in moral terms more valuable than science.

A concluding point was that to challenge the concept of original sin — which required Christ you see to die for our sins — is to challenge, in a mortal way, the bedrock foundations of Christianity. To which all I could say, as I drove along, was … “Are you fucking kidding me?” It’s a talking snake or bust? If Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam) can’t survive on the ethos inherent in The Golden Rule (or The Sermon on the Mount) it deserves to wither and die.

There are books worth of material within the convergence of religious superstition and politics, but at the moment only the modern Republican party has entered into an unconditional compact with a form of preposterously anachronistic, anti-intellectual religiosity. Democrats and liberals aren’t players in this game, and they may well be losers because of it.

You want religion? Let me tell you about the Milky Way over the Grand Canyon.

86 thoughts on “Incredibly Religious

    1. Erik says:

      Mention of Conan or maybe Krista Tippett brings to mind a couple things.

      First, is that our institutions somewhat endorse a concept of the religious left as a movement to countervail the religious right. Problematically though, there aren’t enough religious people on the left to make this movement significant. It’s pretty weak. It might be a time to have a purge of the party, where ‘people of faith’ are frozen out / moved out. I can’t imagine our political movements would be diminished in any way.

      At that point, the time NPR allots to religiously topical programs can be directed to those who are actually effective as countervails to the religious right: foul, crude, classless, misanthropic atheists.

      1. Cheri: I have no idea what sort of counter attack would actually work. But a bit like dealing with racist jokes in every day life, it ,may help to step up once in a while when you hear someone rapturing on about “hate the sin love the sinner” or making an ideological hash of some Biblical scripture and ask, bluntly, “what exactly are you talking about?”

  1. The solution? The battle is for the hearts and minds. The Republican party has been waging it for thirty years, almost entirely unopposed.

    Want proof? Try to find a billboard that makes a gut-wrenching case for freedom of choice. The “pro-choice” movement (and has there ever been a less emotion-engaging slogan?) has focused on winning in the courts, while the anti-abortion contingent has focused on the court of public opinion.

    Guess who’s winning.

    Those of us who favor rationality have thirty years of catching up to do, starting with the recognition that it is a battle for hearts and minds.

    In that order.

  2. john sherman says:

    Brian, you may want to look at a post at punditwire by Leonard Steinhorn, “How the GOP became the Anti-Science Party,” ( which argues that the anti-science bias of the Republicans is due not just to fundamentalists. Money quote, “These factors–anti-liberalism, anti-intellectualism, religious conservatism, and corporate self-interest–create a climate within the Republican Party that even those inclined to accept scientific evindence feel cowed or remain silent.”

    I’m one of those agnostics described by Bertrand Russell as admitting the theoretical possibility that the cosmology described by one of the current religions may be true, but thinking that it’s so unlikely as to not be worth thinking about. I have friends who are liberal Christians (I have in-laws who are Jehovah Witnesses, but that’s a different story) and who, when I hit the ceiling about the latest fundamentalist numbskullery, earnestly explain to me that Pat Robertson or Dobson or whoever do not represent Christianity. My response is, “Fine, I don’t have a dog in this fight; don’t tell me, tell Robertson or Dobson, etc.”

    Something that annoys me is the notion religious discourse is somehow sacrosanct. If somebody says something stupid in the way of ordinary discourse, I can say, “that’s really stupid.” However, if somebody says something stupid and then says it’s his or her religious belief, then if I reply that the belief is stupid I get accused of being an anti-religious bigot. Stupid is stupid even if it’s approved by the Pope and the College of Cardinals; an idea should be defensible on its own terms and not wrapped in piety.

    1. Erik says:

      To be fair, the typical vulgar atheist’s critique of religious mythology (the talking snake, etc. And ‘good for you’ as Elizabeth Warren would say. Good for you for being capable of that insight. ) probably isn’t the largest component of their bigotry. Rather, it’s the intellectual superiority complex.

      No doubt it requires a complex set of bigotries to say mock a Mormon gift shop but not an Amish craft village or halal food store. More simply, ‘dink’ is an underused word these days that comes to mind.

      1. PM. says:

        Erik: most of your “critiques” end up using the trope of “intellectual superiority” in one way or another. Is this a sensitive issue for you? Why does this appear to set you off so?

      2. Erik says:

        Well, no. Your irony is found via the construction of a false moral equivalence. I’m not a bigot.

        For the sake of argument though, I’d acknowledge being a bigot and an ass. But my bigotry is limited in direction to a certain kind of know-nothing / know-it-all, caustic liberal bigot. This sort of anti-bigot bigotry of mine is not malignant.

        Vulgar liberals who insult whole classes of conservatives (as backhanded self-flattery) are engaged in a misanthropic bigotry however, and this is malignant in character.

      3. PM. says:

        Oh, damn! I forgot about the false moral equivalence!! That means that you can make disparaging remarks about entire classes of individuals (like atheists), but no one else can, because that would be a “false” equivalence. Presumably because you simply are not a bigot, because yo mama didn’t raise no bigots, right?

        I wish i had some of those get out of jail free cards, like you do. Do they pass them out at Young Republican national conventions? ( )

      4. Erik says:

        That’s it PM, that’s the entire fucking point. Assertion of false balance / false equivalence as a rhetorical trump card is absurd. It’s absurd when you do it, it’s absurd when Loveland does it, it’s absurd when Leinfelder does it, it’s absurd when Michael Lofgren does it, it’s grotesquely absurd when Lambert does it. It’s a post-modern get out of jail free card. It’s absurd. It’s not a real argument.

        FYI, the only party that ever had me on their mailing and donation lists was the DFL.

      5. PM. says:

        Whew! and i was beginning to worry, thinking that I might be the absurd one!

        Thanks for clearing that up for all of the rest of us!

    2. Jim Leinfelder says:

      What I find amusing about the “false equivalency” goggles Erik dons when he looks out on the vulgar, atheist rabble left of him is that it is so much more often charged against mainstream journalism when it comes to their coverage of the excesses of the right’s rhetoric and framing.

      I can get a parrot to repeat any phrase, Erik. Make an argument, not just fling abstractions such as “false equivalency” like so much monkey dung.

    3. John: The almost “Minnesota Nice” notion that we dare never criticize anyone else’s “religious beliefs” (much of which are plainly political) out of misplaced respect for the Constitution and Christian tolerance is a point Sam Harris makes over and over. The stuff I’m talking about here and the modern GOP is selling is religious in marketing only. Likewise the Taliban and al Qaeda’s homicidal vendettas against the 21st century. The questions are: How did THIS kind of nonsense become sacrosanct, and what is the peril, if any, of describing it for what it is? Liberals in general have to develop a tougher hide for both making a public argument against superstitious intolerance and taking flak from defenders of “anything that wins the culture war”.

      1. john sherman says:

        The reference to the “vulgar atheist” is perplexing since I don’t whom it refers to and why. I’ve read Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, who are the ones that most irk theists, but vulgar in the sense of foul mouthed doesn’t stand up. They are, Hitchens in particular, acerbic but all stay within the bounds of linguistic propriety so far as I know.

        Vulgar in the in the sense of commonplace is sort of true, but that’s not really their fault. It’s true there’s not much new in Dawkins, but he’s dealing with cosmological arguments that were basically settled by the early 19 th C. Hume and Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason pretty well annihilated all the previous philosophical arguments for the existence of god, and the theists really haven’t put up anything of merit since. Occasionally some charlatan will pull out a shiny trinket like “irreducible complexity” to awe the savages, but it doesn’t stand up to even cursory analysis.

        There’s a question of parity that doesn’t get addressed. At worst the atheist says of the believer, “You’re a numbskull who can’t tell the truth from a fairy tale.” One the other hand, the believer says to the atheist, “You are going to be tormented for eternity, and that’s as it should be.” I read a few pages of the Left Behind series, more than enough, and it struck me there was a certain sadistic relish in the torment of the damned. Apparently one of the perks of being saved is getting a box seat to watch people like you and me being tortured for eternity.

  3. PM. says:

    Perhaps the best way to deal with religious fundamentalism is to note that it is almost always a reaction to a perceived outside threat–which causes the holders of strong religious views to “double down” on their belief, and to react defensively (not unlike Erik, above). see

    The best way to deal with the religious “threat” is with the obvious truth of religious plurality of belief–let the religious fight with themselves (is mormonism really a form of christianity, how big a threat is popery, etc.).

    Bottom line–religious belief is slowly declining, and also becoming less intense and important. Further, the more shrill the religious right becomes, the more they turn off everyone else. Oh, and the more attention they gather unto themselves, the more they become exposed as Elmer Gantry’s:

    1. PM: I’m with you on religiosity declining among the “mainstream”, but we are all pretty much captive right now of a highly galvanized voting (and donating) bloc that while statistically small, is the heart of the GOP’s primary battle.

      1. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Actually, in the midst of all of this, it strikes me that the guy with an acrostic “fish” symbol on the back of his car probably knows as little about Christianity as the guy with the mocking “Darwin fish” on his car does about evolutionary biology.

      2. PM. says:

        probably no more than those with a Vikings banner on their car know about Zyggi’s financials….

        I mean, let’s face it–what do you actually need to know to be considered “religious”? And how many who say that they are really know much about it? Expressions of faith are no more than that–expressions. Frequently they are statements of identity–probably mostly on a par with saying that you are a Vikings fan.

        So, Brian, while I agree that it is a statistically small group, there is an outsized group that want to identify with it–that are attracted, but probably too busy to actually show up and do the work or read the Bible or go to church….but they might go out and vote, once every couple of years. Might….

      3. Jim Leinfelder says:

        The Zygi parallel doesn’t work for me, PM. I don’t expect a Roman Catholic to know the Vatican’s financials any more than a Vikings fan should know Zigi’s books.

        My point was merely that there are shallow-thinking people in both the religious and the secular communities who still feel, despite their empty heads, they have a right, not just to their opinions, but to have them taken seriously by people actually making an effort.

        But I guess that’s me committing the sin of moral equivalency.

      4. Erik says:

        Religious fish symbols on cars bring to mind 76 year old grannies.

        Darwin fish bring to mind precious atheists. You know… dinks.

        Granny is not trying to make some dumb ass point. There’s your moral equivalence or lack thereof.

      5. Jim Leinfelder says:

        I’m not really trying to tell anyone how to take Erik. But regarding his claim that only 76-year-old ladies affix the plastic fish symbols to their Buicks to benignly witness for their faith, I somehow doubt it.

        Me, I’ve always perceived the acrostic on the back of someone’s car, the fish symbol, as the mark of a drama-addled, self-pitying, narcissistic Christian who likes to think of himself or herself as unduly put upon and persecuted by an uncaring secular world; and, rather pathetically, in my view from my car, choosing the acrostic rather than a higher-tier Christian symbol in an attempt to identify with the early Christians who actually did use the acrostic as a sort of graphic fraternity handshake drawn in the dust to signify that two strangers meeting were both down with Jesus and to weed out any undercover centurions.

        And the Darwin fish, I’ve always assumed there a shallow sense of superiority by some glib guy with only a passing familiarity with Darwin and his theory of evolution and the refinements thereof developed in the intervening decades, who wants those behind him to know of his perspicacity that enables him to see through the claims of fundamentalists who date earth at 6,000 years; as though it takes some intellectual heavy lifting to buy a plastic Darwin fish. I think it’s as wrong-headed an approach to interacting within a pluralistic society as any science denying fundamentalist who runs around telling people they’re all headed to perdition for exercising their powers of reason.

        Neither crowd holds out anything useful for me. If I ever get a bumper sticker, it’ll read: Honk if you can actually sum up your worldview on your bumper.

      6. Erik says:

        When first exposed to them some years ago I had no idea how to understand the fervency of your more passionate evangelical strains (non-lutherans). Having been made fearful as a child that Falwell, Robertson, and the Reaganites were going to put all the papists in camps, my anxieties were abated when that never come to pass. Then as an adult as I met some over the years it became obvious that as they cited John 3:16 or wanted a witness to bear to, it was not their intention to give the finger to non evangelicals.

        Dink atheists with the Darwin fish are giving the finger to 85% of the people around them. It’s vulgar, and as Jim corroboratively asserted, it reflects an intellectual superiority complex / enormous character flaw (..and good for you pal. You figured out the talking snake can’t be real. You know, because snakes can’t talk.)

        Nor have I ever put a bumper sticker of any sort, political or otherwise, on a car.

        Rep. Ellison and Pres. Obama are ostensibly committed members of their faith. That would seem problematic to a typical liberal. Since you fellas would never call them stupid for that, what’s the deal? Are you all fairly satisfied they’re, you know, just posturing / pandering?

      7. PM. says:


        Now you are being simplistic. ALL politicians engaging in posturing and pandering behavior–it is how you get votes.Obama, Ellison, Bachmann, Clinton, Reagan, Romney, Perry, Cain, Paul–all of them do it. It has nothing to do with party or religion or age–simply a function of the system.

        Some do more, some do less, some do it well, others are more transparent. But all do it.

      8. PM. says:


        As for what they genuinely believe–how would we know? How do we know, for example, what you genuinely believe?

      9. Erik says:

        Yes, they all pander, both Democrats and Republicans… but you don’t want to make the mistake of drawing a false moral equivalence…..

      10. Jim Leinfelder says:

        You’re right there, Erik, no contest, the right is much more unabashed in their cynical pandering to the very worst impulses in the human heart. But, as does John Stewart, I blame their aptly-named “base”:

      11. PM. says:

        Jim and Erik:

        a point of clarification regarding those who “advertise” their beliefs with an acrostic or a darwin fish–those with the darwin fish are more likely to be well informed on the subject:

        September 28, 2010 New York Times
        On Basic Religion Test, Many Doth Not Pass


        Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

        Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

        On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

        Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

        “Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

        That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

        “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

        Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

        The researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth of knowledge about religion, but was not intended to be regarded as a list of the most essential facts about the subject. Most of the questions were easy, but a few were difficult enough to discern which respondents were highly knowledgeable.

        On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants.

        On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.

        One finding that may grab the attention of policy makers is that most Americans wrongly believe that anything having to do with religion is prohibited in public schools.

        An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents, asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead a class in prayer, correctly answered no.

        But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to read from the Bible as an example of literature.” And only about one third knew that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s religions.

        The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the line between teaching and preaching.”

        Mr. Smith said the survey appeared to be the first comprehensive effort at assessing the basic religious knowledge of Americans, so it is impossible to tell whether they are more or less informed than in the past.

        The phone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish in May and June. There were not enough Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu respondents to say how those groups ranked.

        Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these findings:

        ¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

        ¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

        ¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

        The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew that Mother Theresa was Roman Catholic.

      12. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Uh, I believe your cut and paste of the Pew research affirms the first half of my post, but does not speak to the second half of my post, which is fine.

        But spare me lumping me in with Erik.

      13. PM. says:

        My apologies for lumping you together.

        Yes, the Pew results do not directly address your second point, but I do think that the overall implications of the study do address your second point. Atheists and agnostics have a pronounced tendency to doubt and to question, as opposed to accepting–they tend not to believe that they know the answers to everything already–those answers need to be discovered, to be learned. As a result, they tend to know more about religion than most religious believers (as the pew study demonstrates). Similarly, I expect that they also know more about evolution, as opposed to blindly saying that they (simply and naively) believe in it.

      14. Jim Leinfelder says:

        More than who, PM? Than people without Darwin fish OR acrostics Somehow, I doubt it. I can easily picture a Darwin fish person withholding childhood vaccines from their children. I can’t prove it. Just a hunch.

      15. PM. says:


        what does a decision to not vaccinate ones child have to do with knowledge of evolution?

        I think there is very little connection between the two. I think that those who do not vaccinate their children fall into a couple of different camps–those who are ignorant/unaware of the law (often recent immigrants), those who have religious objections to various forms of medical care, and those who place their own personal safety (and that of their children) far above the safety of the society as a whole.

        For the last group, I think that the problem is one of understanding of risk, not a lack of knowledge of how evolution works.

      16. Erik says:

        I agree with Jim. It’s a solid enough analogy. Those people exist.

        PM, your habit is to parse things such that your peeps (the libs) are viewed more favorably in any comparison. You (and others) do this by finding some way, any way, to say ‘there’s no equivalence, it’s not analogous.’

        If there’s to be an example of what it is I troll around here mocking, that’s it – the idea that liberals can swat away comparisons by saying there’s no qualitative equivalence.

        I feel like we are making progress with this dialogue fellas. Which is good, because I was hoping we could car pool together to this:

      17. PM. says:

        Oh, lord, Erik, now you are being stupid/silly.

        Are you trying to say that only liberals draw distinctions? that conservatives see the world as one great big gray mush? or that you (and others) have never tried to draw distinctions between those who attend (say) a Tea Party rally and carry racist signs or shout racist slogans and the other attendees? Or are they all racists? Or those who carry such purported anti-government signs as “get your hands off of my medicare”? Or those Republicans who call all muslims “terrorist” (

        Come on Erik, try as you might, you simply can not have it both ways.

        The only thing you seem to be in danger of proving here is that there is no qualitative equivalence between your posts and those of others.

        That said, I’d let you buy me a beer…
        (not certain i am up for any occupations–but don’t let that stop you!)

      18. Jim Leinfelder says:


        My bias is that I perceive people with Darwin fish on their cars as mere poseurs who actually know precious little about science and are more invested in a trite graphic put down of all religious people, which is unproductive in my view.

        I can easily imagine someone buffing his new Darwin fish and at the same time superciliously declaring that he won’t be getting his kids vaccinated because it’s not “natural.”

        Just as I can imagine someone at a Republican debate cheering for capital punishment like it’s a college football team with their acrostic-adorned car sitting out in the parking lot.

        It’s merely a reiteration of my earlier point that both these camps have pretty shallow keels into either of the seas they sail and can be pushed off course by any puff of effluvia from a passing demagogue.

  4. John Gaterud says:

    From the For-What-It’s-Worth Dept.: Provocative piece on last Friday’s broadcast of “The Story,” with Dick Gordon, about Vyckie Garrison’s new book, “No Longer Quivering.”

    (Let podcast load first, then slide forward about 2/3 into program; Garrison’s is the second of the two interviews):

    [audio src="" /]

  5. Newt says:

    I’ve always thought of Jews as America’s religious left, e.g. the 9th Congressional District in NYC. As a population, they almost always vote Democratic.

  6. Lordy, Brian, you are a walking magnet for the faux-erudite right and its more obviously malignant evil twin, the rabid radical right. What say we pray willful ignorance away, eh?

    Re: willful ignorance about science, do not miss Shawn Otto’s forthcoming book (due out October 11 or so). “Fool Me Twice” is the title. It has gotten stellar reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. A book filled with the radical right’s worst nightmare: facts, facts, facts and more facts. Scrupulous research. Credible sources, named.

    1. Barbara: Truth be told, I’m regularly amused by the contorted syntax of the “faux erudite” right, and find a strange satisfaction in knowing they find me so infuriating.

      1. Erik says:

        Well, Barbara doesn’t know me. She’d like me. Everyone does.

        As for the contorted syntax, it doesn’t compare any less favorably to say on over reliance on scare quotes or subordinate clauses. To the extent I’m not a completely polished writer, I share your excuse: I’m not a professional.

  7. PM. says:


    Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics
    Published: September 25, 2011

    Pullman, Wash.

    THE end is near — or so it seems to a segment of Christians aligned with the religious right. The global economic meltdown, numerous natural disasters and the threat of radical Islam have fueled a conviction among some evangelicals that these are the last days. While such beliefs might be dismissed as the rantings of a small but vocal minority, apocalyptic fears helped drive the antigovernment movements of the 1930s and ’40s and could help define the 2012 presidential campaign as well.

    Christian apocalypticism has a long and varied history. Its most prevalent modern incarnation took shape a century ago, among the vast network of preachers, evangelists, Bible-college professors and publishers who established the fundamentalist movement. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and independents, they shared a commitment to returning the Christian faith to its “fundamentals.”

    Biblical criticism, the return of Jews to the Holy Land, evolutionary science and World War I convinced them that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Basing their predictions on biblical prophecy, they identified signs, drawn especially from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, that would foreshadow the arrival of the last days: the growth of strong central governments and the consolidation of independent nations into one superstate led by a seemingly benevolent leader promising world peace.

    This leader would ultimately prove to be the Antichrist, who, after the so-called rapture of true saints to heaven, would lead humanity through a great tribulation culminating in the second coming and Armageddon. Conservative preachers, evangelists and media personalities of the 20th century, like Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, shared these beliefs.

    Fundamentalists’ anticipation of a coming superstate pushed them to the political right. As the government grew in response to industrialization, fundamentalists concluded that the rapture was approaching. Their anxieties worsened in the 1930s with the rise of fascism. Obsessed with matching biblical prophecy with current events, they studied Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, each of whom seemed to foreshadow the Antichrist.

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt troubled them as well. His consolidation of power across more than three terms in the White House, his efforts to undermine the autonomy of the Supreme Court, his dream of a global United Nations and especially his rapid expansion of the government confirmed what many fundamentalists had feared: the United States was lining up with Europe in preparation for a new world dictator.

    As a result, prominent fundamentalists joined right-wing libertarians in their effort to undermine Roosevelt. That this mix of millennialism and activism seemed inconsistent — why work for reform if the world is destined for Armageddon? — never troubled them. They simply asserted that Jesus had called them to “occupy” until he returned (Luke 19:13). Like orthodox Marxists who challenge capitalism even though they say they believe it represents an inevitable step on the road to the socialist paradise, conservative Christians never let their conviction that the future is already written lead them to passivity.

    The world in 2011 resembles the world of the 1930s in many respects. International turmoil and a prolonged economic downturn have fueled distrust of government, as has the rise of a new libertarianism represented in the explosive growth of the Tea Party.

    For some evangelicals, President Obama is troubling. The specious theories about his place of birth, his internationalist tendencies, his measured support for Israel and his Nobel Peace Prize fit their long-held expectations about the Antichrist. So does his commitment to expanding the reach of government in areas like health care.

    In 2008, the campaign of Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, presciently tapped into evangelicals’ apocalyptic fears by producing an ad, “The One,” that sarcastically heralded Mr. Obama as a messiah. Mr. McCain was onto something. Not since Roosevelt have we had a president of charisma and global popularity, who so perfectly fits the evangelicals’ Antichrist mold.

    While Depression-era fundamentalists represented only a small voice among the anti-Roosevelt forces of the 1930s, evangelicals have grown ever savvier and now constitute one of the largest interest groups in the Republican Party. In the past, relatively responsible leaders like Mr. Graham, who worked with Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, and even Mr. Falwell, who reined in evangelical excess in exchange for access to the Reagan White House, channeled their evangelical energy.

    Not now. A leadership vacuum exists on the evangelical right that some Republicans — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and even Ron Paul — are exploiting. How tightly their strident anti-statism will connect with evangelical apocalypticism remains to be seen.

    The left is in disarray while libertarianism is on the ascent. A new generation of evangelicals — well-versed in organizing but lacking moderating influences — is lining up behind hard-right anti-statists. While few of the faithful truly think that the president is the Antichrist, millions of voters, like their Depression-era predecessors, fear that the time is short. The sentiment that Mr. Obama is preparing the United States, as Roosevelt did, for the Antichrist’s global coalition is likely to grow.

    Barring the rapture, Mrs. Bachmann or Mr. Perry could well ride the apocalyptic anti-statism of conservative Christians into the Oval Office. Indeed, the tribulation may be upon us.

    Matthew Avery Sutton, an associate professor of history at Washington State University, is the author of “Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America.

    1. john sherman says:

      It’s an interesting question as to whether we should listen to the advice about the future from those who don’t believe there will be one or consult on middle east policy with those who are hoping for a big war there that will, among other things, kill off all the Jews,

      To a considerable extent scientists make predictions, and if their predictions comes to pass, that’s one up for their hypothesis, if they don’t, it’s evidence they got something wrong and they’re expected to admit it and discard or modify their hypothesis. On the other hand, for the last two millennia authoritative religious figures have been predicting that Jesus is coming again and right now. What conclusions should they draw from two thousand years of failed predictions, and conclusions do they draw?

  8. “I can easily imagine someone buffing his new Darwin fish and at the same time superciliously declaring that he won’t be getting his kids vaccinated because it’s not ‘natural.’”

    Building quite a tall negative edifice out of your imagination, aren’t you, Jim? I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you to ask anyone with a Darwin fish what they had in mind.

    As long as we’re inferring without being encumbered by actual facts, here’s an alternate interpretation: It’s a wisecrack – poking fun in a mild way at folks who wear their religions on their sleeves (actually, on their fenders) and a statement that the Darwin fish displayer places his/her confidence in science rather than faith.

    With this interpretation, someone displaying a Darwin fish would be the last person you’d expect to avoid vaccinations because of alarmist claptrap.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Well, Bob, that’d be anyone’s preferred reality. Actually, I have thought about asking, for the purposes of writing something about the acrostic vs. Darwin fish crowds. But I never got around to actually putting in the time. I always see them either while I’m in traffic or when one’s affixed to a parked, empty vehicle. Perhaps your scolding post will get me off the dime.

      But, yes, I’ve always assumed it was an assumption on the Darwin fish crowd’s part that they knew the minds of the people with the acrostics and felt they needed to be mocked while stuck in traffic. So you and I are in agreement there, that it’s an act of smug superiority. I just don’t think it’s very productive and just leads to defensive retrenchment, much as H.L. Mencken’s sneering coverage of the trumped up Scopes Trial did vastly more to set back the advance of wider acceptance of evolutionary theory than it did in advancing it.

      It should go without saying that people who make these vague graphic assertions on their cars set themselves up for the possibility of varied misinterpretations. Yours is a charitable one towards the Darwin fish; but the subtext of your remark, “people who wear their religions on their sleeves (actually, on their fenders),” leads me to infer you’re less charitable in your inferences toward those with the acrostic fish on theirs. On that point we are probably closer to agreement.

      My thought was merely that I doubted the depth of either group’s understanding of faith or science, that it was more of a pose, rather narcissistic and self-righteous in both cases.

      I doubt either crowd knows of the contributions of, say, the mid-18th Century Swedish botanist Karl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus in Latin). True, he was hamstrung by his devout religious faith and insisted that life in its manifold forms was fixed. Still, Linnaeus was a first class scientist,enabling him to create his logical classification system for all living things in his book Systema Naturae, first published in 1735. In this and subsequent works, he described plants and animals on the basis of morphology and method of reproduction. He classified them relative to each other according to the degree of their similarities. He used a binomial nomenclature in naming them, such as homo, the genus, and sapien, the species.

      Later scientists, such as Charles Darwin put this taxonomic system to an even higher use by allowing themselves to imagine a world in which life forms were not always fixed. Subsequent scientists have greatly expanded on his work since using the even more precise science of genomics. We all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, do we not?

      None of that exchange of ideas will occur in the polarized environment of trite bumper sticker rhetoric we live in now.

      1. Huh. I thought my comment about people wearing their religions on their fenders was purely objective reporting. They have, after all, placed a symbol of their religion on their fenders.

        The only inference I’m drawing is that they’re proclaiming their Christianity and not announcing that they’re on their way to the local bait shop.

      2. PM. says:

        So, Jim, you’d prefer that people attach research papers on Linnaeus or Mendel or Lamarck to their bumpers? As much as that might be an ideal to aspire to, it really isn’t practical. People need various shorthand symbols to exchange information in a shorter fashion, and their use of symbols and shortcuts are not necessarily smug or trite or mocking or sneering or narcissistic or self righteous. That is an assumption on your part, that really says a lot more about you than it does about the people who utilize these symbols.

  9. Jim Leinfelder says:


    Give me a break. “They need various shorthand symbols to exchange information in a shorter fashion…” Seriously, you’re passing this on in earnest?

    No, no they don’t. Neither do they need to put bumper stickers on internal combustion-powered automobiles admonishing us all to: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” They don’t need to let us all know what they’d rather be doing than driving their cars. Or that there are show dogs on board. None of it’s useful to know about them. Merely annoying.

    Of course, now I’m dying to know what shorthand symbols you use to exchange (BTW where’s the exchange exactly?) information in a shorter fashion on the back of your ride.

    1. Erik says:

      OMG. He doth protest, but he’d really enjoy being lumped together with me.

      Note, I happen to think the ‘end of an errOr’ stickers are as crude as anything else. Having political bumper stickers is probably symptomatic of some narcissism.

      Last 2 nights on the way home I looked for bumper stickers on the jaunt back to the near exurbs in Bachmannia. I didn’t actually see very many. It was possible to look at 30 or 40 cars before seeing a bumper sticker. At that point, most were rather mirthful.

      1. PM. says:


        while I don’t agree with them, i at least think that the “End of an errOr” bumper stickers are clever, rather than crude.

        I don’t have a problem with people expressing an opinion–I generally think that is a good thing. Sometimes I do have problems with the opinions expressed.

    2. PM. says:


      you really are a curmudgeon, aren’t you?

      people do these things (bumper stickers, etc.) because they want to . it gives them pleasure. Same reason for wearing slogans on t-shirts, or campaign buttons, etc. People like to express their opinions–this is also the foundation for gossip, conversation, social interaction, the creation of social bonds.

      Sure, everyone COULD be a hermit, but that will never happen–because people are social. And part of being social is self organizing into groups–self selecting, self-identifying, marking, etc. It is too bad that you don’t like this, because it is what people do. They find pleasure in solidarity, in social interaction, in creating in-groups and out-groups. And as much as you might not like it, it isn’t going to stop–it is a function of human society–every society, at every point in history.

      People are proud of their dogs, their babies, their beliefs. Sure, sometimes they are trite, smug, etc., (and sometimes even wrong or misinformed), But that is also human nature, and ranting about it isn’t going to accomplish much–except as YOUR way of expressing yourself and your opinions to the world. Just like the people with the acrostic or the darwin fish, you are doing exactly the same thing that they are doing–except in your mind you are doing it better, in a more worthy fashion.

      lighten up a little. enjoy life.

      (oh, fwiw, my bumper is currently bare, although i am thinking about putting this on it:

      1. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Thanks, PM, for the gimlet-eyed sociology. I had no idea people did these things because they want to. Or that people are proud of their dog, babies, their beliefs (curious hierarchical order there). Who would ever know without a bumper sticker? I also was unaware that the lack of preachy bumper stickers is evidence of a hermit’s existence. Oh, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, congrats there. Also cutting edge stuff, circa, what, 2005? It’s sure to turn some commuters’ world views 180 degrees.

        Yes, it’s all good for promoting the strident tribalism and paralytic politics we enjoy today. And, yes, a lot of it is benign. It’s good to know people are still going to Wall Drug and The Mystery Spot. But the stuff where people are very directly mocking or condemning other people’s beliefs or world views is not a dialogue. It shuts that down and is not, as I’ve said, helpful in anyway. But, yes, as you so perspicaciously point out, it is human nature. And certainly we should always embrace our unreflective impulses at every moment.

        This started with my speculation in the context of Lambert’s piece bemoaning religious fundamentalism’s limiting influence on scientific empiricism and rational public policy that the acrostic crowd and the Darwin fish crowd probably know precious little about what they figuratively wear on their sleeves. Science illiteracy is not limited to the churched.

        But, anyway, have you heard about Face Book yet, PM? You will love it.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Well, if I beat someone over the head with an iron skillet, it’s still a skillet. But I aint’ cookin’ with it.

      My question to you, Mrs. Fay, is why is it not on your bumper?

      1. Mrs. Fay says:

        See above commentary. I prefer to keep my snarky opinions on my refrigerator, annoying only my family.
        I also believe that if you hit someone over the head with an iron skillet, it’s called a murder weapon.

      2. Jim Leinfelder says:

        I figured, but that I’d ask. All this back and forth has inspired me to get around to doing some old-fashioned reporting and ask as many acrostic and darwin fish-adorned car owners I can meet just what their intended message(s) to the world truly are.

        I’ll get back to you with a report.

      3. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Well, it’s only murder if they die. But, yes, that was my point, you can redefine an object in the manner of its use.

  10. Dennis Lang says:

    Leinfelder’s use of “gimlet-eyed” above is I believe the first time that expression has ever appeared at the Crowd. Good one!

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Erik–What? Nothing opens. And by the way, when I click on new posts or comments here at the Crowd I only get blank screen these days. Has my contraption gone haywire? That said, I also like “paralytic politics”. Love you guys–and Mrs. Fay!

      2. PM. says:

        If you do the search in Google for {with}”gimlet-eyed”, it will give you a number of hits, clearly indicating that this is not the first time gimlet-eyed has been used. What is striking, however, is the number of times that Leinfelder has been the one using it. Clearly a tic of his.

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Fabulous research gentlemen! (For some reason I continue picturing PM as a male. Sexism on my part?) Now that it’s been exposed in all its redundancy hopefully it’s the last we see of “gimlet-eyed”.

      2. Dennis Lang says:

        Come ot think of it, there are virtually zero women who seem to be responding on this blog. All you guys a bunch of nerd-balls or what?

  11. Mrs. Fay … “I also believe that if you hit someone over the head with an iron skillet, it’s called a murder weapon.”

    I thought it was called “exercise.”

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