Why does it appear to be the case that those who most closely identify themselves with the religious right – the people who say that morality requires God and we cannot trust the atheist to do the right thing – so strongly embraces a culture of dishonesty and intellectual recklessness?
Recent news contained two stories that illustrate the thesis that the religious right give their trust and friendship to those who practice deliberate deception and intellectual recklessness. They seem to have little idea what intellectual honestly looks like, at least when dealing with their own members.
The Obama/Clinton Story
Crooks and Liars carried a posting on the claim that Democratic candidate Barack Obama attended a Muslim Madrassa (a school that specializes in the teaching of Muslim hate and violence to young children) when his family lived in Indonesia. The story originated in Insight Magazine (owned by the same company that owns the Washington Times) and was then picked up and retransmitted by several branches of the News Corp media empire including Fox News and the New York Post. It further alleged that the Hillary Clinton campaign was behind the story, having uncovered a fact that Obama was trying to keep hidden.
They also posted CNN’s investigation of this story, finding it to be entirely unsupported. They visited the school that Barack visited, finding it to be little different from a conventional American school. Class pictures taken from the time Obama attended there showed teachers in casual western-style wear and no signs of any intense focus on the Muslim religion at all – let alone the most violent and hate-filled parts of that religion. Even though most of the students who attended were Muslim, the school gave Christian students an opportunity to spend some time studying their own religion while the Muslim children attended separate classes. Obama, at that time, studied with the Christian students.
The Stem Cell Report
Here, the White House Domestic Policy Council released a report arguing that embryonic stem cell research was unnecessary because everything that scientists expect to gain from embryonic stem cells can be gained using other techniques that do not destroy embryos. However, its claims are built on unrepeated scientific research that scarcely supports the broad claims the Domestic Policy Council claims and whose conclusions are largely rejected by the scientific community.
More to the point, the same White House that so easily and unashamedly accepts the weakest possible scientific claims suggesting that embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary also rejects research on global warming that has massive empirical support and the acceptance of the vast majority of the scientific community. It is difficult to find any pattern to the type of research that the White House uses in evaluating scientific claims other than, “Science that yields conclusions we like is good science and will be considered brilliant even if on the weakest empirical claims and reasoning; science that yields conclusions we do not like is bad science that will be rejected regardless of the degree of corroboration and confirmation available.”
Absent a Love of Truth or Intellectual Responsibility
Even the Christian religion has a commandment against bearing false witness against others. Yet, it seems that those who are the most vocal in asserting their Christian identity, and the most vocal in condemning non-Christians for their lack of a moral base, are also the most willing to bear false witness and engage in intellectual recklessness that threatens to contribute to the maiming and killing of hundreds of millions of people.
Christians defend this prohibition against bearing false witness as a commandment. I defend it on the grounds that we have several strong reasons to promote an aversion to bearing false witness. Promoting such an aversion among the population as a whole would help in the fulfillment of other desires. These many strong reasons to promote an aversion to bearing false witness do not depend in any way on the existence of a God. Those reasons give us reason to praise and to reward those who tell the truth even when it otherwise harms their interests; and to condemn and punish those who use deception and who ‘bear false witness’ against others as a way of promoting their interests.
So, we have this group of people who claim that their religion makes them more virtuous than others, who claim to have a true devotion to that which is right and a true contempt with that which is wrong, who ally themselves with ‘bearing false witness’ and intellectual recklessness threatening hundreds of millions of lives without the slightest hint of guilt or shame. It is as if they believe that God’s commandments do not apply to those who believe in God. Only the heathen and infidel is prohibited from bearing false witness and threatening the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Believers can do whatever they please.
Two months before the 2004 Presidential election, CBS News ran a story where they claimed to have uncovered memos critical of President Bush’s service as a member of the National Guard. Later, it was discovered that the papers were forgeries, and that CBS News had not authenticated the papers before reporting on their contents. This was a huge embarrassment for CBS, which issued an apology, fired four members of its staff who were responsible for the error getting on the news, and renewed their efforts to make sure that their reports were accurate.
We cannot expect the same thing to happen at Fox News or the New York Post regarding the Obama story, or the White House Office of Domestic Policy in the case of the stem cell papers.
It is not unreasonable to expect that the reason for this difference is because CBS serves a culture that finds “bearing false witness” and irresponsible and reckless reporting to demand some level of moral outrage, who assigns responsibility for wrongful acts and punishes the wrongdoers accordingly.
Fox News, the New York Post, and the White House, on the other hand, belong to a culture of deception and intellectual recklessness that views intellectual responsibility itself as a moral crime and are more likely to punish the honest and careful researcher while rewarding the dishonest propagandist.
The Perpetrators and Their Assistants
So far, I have focused attention on the perpetrators themselves – the intellectually reckless and the bearers of false witness. Yet, blame needs to be cast far wider than this.
We live in a culture soaked in lies and deception for the same reason that the people in Baghdad live in a sea of bombs and other forms of murder. This happens because the people as a whole, and the culture they adopt, have decided to embrace and reward those who practice these arts of deception and intellectual recklessness in this country, of bombing and murder in Iraq, whenever the perpetrators claim to be one of ‘us’ who are inflicting these wrongs on ‘them’.
We are constantly being told that America is a Christian nation. There is one sense in which this is correct. Most people in this country are Christian, and the values that this country follows are those that Christians find easy to accept.
We are a Christian nation, in that the Christian culture is a culture that embraces lies, bearing false witness, and intellectual recklessness as cultural icons, advancing and promoting these art forms at every opportunity, particularly when they are useful in gaining political and economic control over others.
The proof is easy to see. If it were not the fact that this was a Christian nation, and those Christians endorsed deception, bearing false witness, and intellectual recklessness as cultural ideals to be promoted and defended, people in the Bush Administration and on Fox News and other Conservative outlets would be out of a job today, or in the near future. These are the things that people do when they hold to a moral standard, and decide to hold people personally responsible for violating that standard. These are the things that the religious right – at least that arm of it that embraces the White House and Fox News, will not do.