Monday, January 26, 2015

How religious fanaticism plays a part in American public policy

Here is a picture of Senator James Inhofe. Now check out the quote associated with him:

That is his response to climate change, and I'm not exactly impressed with his response, either. But I am concerned that religious influence can hinder public policy efforts to reverse global warming and beneficial environmental policy, in general. Inhofe seems to forget that he is a steward of the earth, by his own book, the Bible. So, when he quotes the Bible, he is cherry-picking quotes.

Here's a Bible quote Inhofe probably missed as a champion of fracking:
Jer. 2:7. I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and you made my inheritance detestable. 
As I write this, I'm reminded of the former Interior Secretary under the Reagan Administration, James Watt, a man who's sole political purpose seemed to be to destroy the earth in time for the 2nd Coming. Where do such men develop the conviction that it's OK to pollute the earth? I'm not sure, but I think I found a clue. In serendipity, I found this very interesting video and have spent a few evenings watching it:

It's more than 2 hours of time, but well worth the watch. The debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham is instructive. While Nye delivers only scientific facts, Ham delivers persecution and belief. I find it astonishing to see Ham assert that what science can infer about the past is nothing more than a religion. 

The most interesting aspect of the debate is this: there are no other major religions in this country promoting the idea from the Christian right wing that creationism be taught as science. For example, I checked the website of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that supports Jewish causes. Their policy position is that creation theories have no place in the science class. Next, I checked out Islamic websites and they said that evolution was compatible with Islam. Buddhists say that evolution is compatible with their teachings, too. It would seem to me that Christians are the sole source of demand for equal time for dogma in the science class.

I look back on the debate between Nye and Ham and see how hard Ham has worked to twist the logic to suit the desired results. I also see that Ham is making political arguments, not scientific arguments to support his contention that kids should be taught creationism as science. Ham believes that Christians have been shut out of the debate on the origins of life on this planet. He also believes that we need to change the terms of the debate to more properly allow his side an opportunity to participate in the debate.

I've given some though to why some Christians are so determined to get their creation hypotheses into the debate on the origins of life. Although I touched on some of reasons here in an older blog post, I believe I found one important reason: Christian parents want to save their children the misery they might experience at the hands of a wrathful god if they should ever accept a scientific view on where we came from. 

Ham says that the age of the earth cannot be accurately determined because none of us were there when the earth was created. He says that radioisotope dating, measuring the ratio of isotopes in a given sample to determine its age, is not really that accurate and that none extend beyond a few million years, therefore it cannot be trusted. Never mind the scientific consensus that disagrees with him.

He wants scientists to at least admit that what we know about the past can at best be couched as another religion. This would conveniently place his good book on the path to declaring America a Christian Nation. He knows well that in order to accept the world view of him and his followers, much of the scientific method must be abandoned in order to interpret evidence of the past. This sort of attitude is not acceptable in scientific or public policy.

He goes on to say that the Bible was written by people who were there. Really? How is it then that there are no historical accounts of Jesus? How is it that the existence of Jesus cannot be scientifically verified by anyone? And finally, if there is no way to verify the "facts" of the Bible, any of them, why are the rest of us expected to accept the book of Genesis as the only viable model for the creation of life on earth, or the Universe? Oh, I know, it's a matter of faith.

Considering the attitude of seemingly grown men like Inhofe and Ham, both of whom have found access to the levers of power in public policy, there is a problem. For them, public policy is not a matter of faith if they believe that God will fix the problems with their ideas. For them God is a certainty. Does a true Christian tell God what to do, or make wishes upon God? I think not.

When President Reagan took office, Congress passed sweeping tax reform that started the ball rolling on Reaganomics. Reagan's opponent in the 1980 primaries was George H. W. Bush, who called Reagan's ideas, "Voodoo Economics". Bush was clear that Reagan's tax policy proposals would balloon the deficit, and they did. Reaganomics is also known as Trickle Down Economics for the reason that it was assumed that upon keeping more money to themselves, the wealthy would spend more money. 27 years, two bubbles and two long wars later, we discovered we were wrong about that, on September 30th, 2008.

Closer to the present, we see Governor Sam Brownback running smack into the same experience but at a local level in Kansas. In May, 2012, Brownback signed into law one of the largest tax cuts in Kansas history, but that state is enjoying few if any of the benefits of the growth we are seeing now in the rest of the nation. Why? Brownback is an evangelical Christian, injecting his religion into economic policy rather than following economists who are engaged in the science of how the economy works.

Brownback's actions reflect the desires of many in Congress to do the same thing, but they are not economists either. The conservative side of Congress seems entirely bent on pursuing this fantasy that Reaganomics will actually work someday, if we could just give it more time. But that again, is a matter of belief not science.

These are radical Christians, very similar to the radical Muslim clerics in the Middle East. These radical Christians got us into two wars, brought us the Great Recession while sparing Wall Street at the same time, and brought us global warming with all their theological fervor.

This is why we need separation of church and state. Public policy must be decided on the evidence, not on belief, or theology. We need people in power who are willing to admit they are wrong in order to change course when a change in course is needed. Men with the conviction of religion seem to have a really difficult time admitting to a mistake in public policy based on religious belief. That's because religious conviction tends to blind grown men from the truth, for if it comes from God, it must be true.
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