A Parallel “Reality”

One interesting thing about conservative Christianity in the US is the parallel social and cultural reality it has been able to sustain. There are Christian books, music acts, movies — a whole cultural world Christians try to keep pure of contamination by a corrupt secular environment. There are directories of Christian businesses for those who want to shop according to their moral values. There are megachurches that thrive on creating a Christian social and political bubble for the faithful to occupy.

Ordinarily, I would not be too concerned. Let them create a fantasy world and live in it — it would not bother me as long as it did not significantly interfere with things I care about. But that rarely happens. Inevitably, the parallel ideological reality competes for resources in the real world. And occasionally, the right-wing religious populists get ambitions of taking over the country.

Being an academic, the most direct way the parallel Christian reality bothers me are its alternative intellectual structures. Many [correction due to a comment by Humes’s Ghost] right-wing Christians live in a world where global warming is a myth promoted by pagan environmentalists, where Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and where evolution is a mere materialist pseudoscience. And since no institution upholding any critical scholarly standards would accept such nonsense, they just do their usual thing: create parallel institutions. Since Christian rightists consider mainstream universities to be fatally compromised by liberal secularist ideology, they set up their own sources of “scholarship” that are guaranteed to confirm their alternative vision of reality. For “education,” you have conservative Christian pseudo-universities such as Liberty, Regent, and Patrick Henry, and a boatload of bible colleges and so forth. For “research,” you have think tanks, which have the extra advantage of direct political influence. For a Religious Right flavor of biology and physics, you have the Discovery Institute. For pseudo-social science, you have the Heritage Foundation.

But what has become scary is how, as the Religious Right has attained political power, this parallel intellectual universe is putting pressure on genuine intellectual institutions. The right-wing Christian constituency not only lives in a hermetically sealed parallel perception of reality, but they are determined to cleanse the rest of the country. So it’s no surprise that science has come under some serious assault during the Bush administration. And there’s more to come. The Religious Right is going after universities for being liberal, evolutionist bastions. More and more often, I’m beginning to see rhetoric such as the following:

I know why our country doesn’t lock up people who fantasize about a new holocaust on a scale that would dwarf all others in human history. We’re a republic that rightly defends intellectual freedom. What I don’t get is why our country–populated overwhelmingly by people who reject the materialistic, nihilistic vision propounded by Pianka and others–nevertheless sets up Ebola holocaust lovers and their nihilistic/materialist cohorts in tenured and taxpayer funded positions at our public universities, not roughly in proportion to their representation among our total population (about 10-12% of us) but in numbers so great that these materialists function as the ideological gatekeepers at these institutions? Maybe when enough socially conservative and moderate Republicans and Democrats begin asking that same question, something will change.

This is from a rant by Jonathan Witt on a Discovery Institute-linked intelligent design blog, where he accuses biologist Eric Pianka of advocating mass murder of most of the planet, and states that this sort of thing is just the logical consequence of evolutionist materialism.

Such lunatic (not to mention slanderous) rhetoric becoming commonplace is disturbing — it ratchets up the feeling of persecution among the faithful, legitimating any measure necessary to eliminate the threat posed by liberal secularists. And I feel particularly alarmed by how often it is the universities that are being set up as targets these days. I can’t be naive and say that those of us who are university faculty are always non-ideological, disinterested inquirers. Nevertheless, by and large, we do a good job. Probably precisely because we have our critical faculties intact, we are rarely favorable toward the ideologicaly-determined picture of the world favored by the Religious Right. They know The Truth, damn the evidence — and they’re now out to get those who disagree and thereby might be a political obstacle. They’re taking back the country for God, after all.

These are fascist attitudes. And the extent of the parallel reality set up by the Religious Right has to remind us of fascist practices in the past.