Sunday, May 1, 2011

Religious Fundamentalism’s War on Reality Will Destroy Us

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson

At what point do we rise up in frustration and say, “enough is enough”? When do we draw the line between belief and fact? I wrote about this the other day but again and again religious fundamentalists come swaning out of right field with their blithe disregard for how the universe works. This isn’t the Middle Ages anymore when we can be convinced that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth or that this little rock we’re on is only a few thousand years old. When science comes up against biblical writ, science wins every time.

But despite studies that show religion is becoming extinct in some areas, the world is still full of people who believe some really bizarre things. We’ve all been told we can lower gas prices through prayer, as though the laws of supply and demand, not to mention corporate chicanery, don’t exist. We can put an end to abortion that way too, by praying. We’ve seen how well those two approaches work. What, exactly, are supposed to be the mechanics of such operations, assuming they worked? It’s certainly nothing that can be explained by science.

And it’s not only our fundamentalist Christians that have wacky ideas. Fundamentalist Muslims have their reward of virgin houris awaiting them in heaven, and Dr. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a nuclear scientist no less, let religious fundamentalism trump the fundamentals of science when he suggested that Islamic spirits known as djinns could be used to solve the energy crisis.

“I think that if we develop our souls, we can develop communication with them,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 1998. “Every new idea has its opponent,” he added. “But there is no reason for this controversy over Islam and science because there is no conflict between Islam and science.”

No, but in this instance there is no alliance between Islam and science either. You can’t talk to your djinns and have them fix the world’s energy crisis. I’m sorry, but you just can’t do that.

Say what?

At least the houris stay in paradise, but djinns, beings of fire, being tapped for our energy needs? I can’t disprove your afterlife any more than you can disprove Valhalla, but I will certainly be able to see that no djinns are present. Maybe I should suggest we employ valkyries in some role? C’mon, if we just pray hard enough we can make it happen! You with me?

Do you see the problem here with bringing religion into scientific debates?

The religious right has denounced global warming. Worse, they have joined forces with the corporate right to battle “the green dragon.” There have been a variety of arguments put forth: God promised we would not be destroyed by flood again so all this talk of rising sea levels must be just nonsense. Or God will take care of the environment because he gave it to us to live on and won’t let anything happen to it. And we’re told the earth can’t be billions of years old. The Bible said it was created in a seven day feat of engineering by divine hands and that natural wonders like the Grand Canyon must have been formed therefore my a miraculous flood, despite the sheer impossibility of such an explanation. Science very inconveniently intrudes upon these superstitious fantasies, therefore science must be shunted aside.

Let belief reign.

The worst of it is that as Right Wing Watch reports, “the Religious Right is working to misrepresent the environmental movement as dangerously deceitful, harmful to the poor and destructive to Christianity.”

So caring for the environment is actually anti-Christian. That’s funny; I don’t even think about Christianity when I give to green causes, recycle, write letters, sign petitions, etc. At least, it was the last thing on my mind until they starting saying such destructively stupid things.

So let’s correct those textbooks and put God back into our educational system and hide behind belief, the equivalent of putting your head into a hole in order to hide from unpleasant facts. But closing your eyes to the onrushing locomotive won’t save you from being run over. Prayer and biblical assurances aren’t going to stop rising sea levels from obliterating the Maldives. Unfortunately, science can’t stop it either at this point, but science can (and has) at least warned us of the dangers so many people would like to pretend did not exist.

The irony is that both science and fundamentalism agree that we’re all going to suffer because of what others do. Christian fundamentalists talk about collective guilt; The United States has turned into Sodom and Gomorrah and if we don’t change our ways, God will smite the United States. He will kill us all, as he did those in Sodom and Gomorrah, whether we are guilty or not. Science shows that global warming will affect us all; believing the sea isn’t rising won’t protect Christian fundamentalists who live at or below sea level and he won’t protect those who live to close to a nuclear reactor on a fault line.

To pretend that natural disasters are signs of God’s growing impatience with a sinful humanity may be a pleasing explanation for fundamentalists, science demonstrates that such things as fault lines exist, that earthquakes come from activity where these meet, and not from heaven above. Superstition won’t explain and won’t save us from natural laws or human stupidity. If prayer can’t lower gas prices you can bet your Bible it won’t hold back that tsunami, or make that tornado part like the red sea. And the germ theory of medicine has been proven; the prayers of Christian scientists can work against biology. Curses and demonic possession did not cause your illness and prayer won’t make it go away. The natural world does not work that way.

Remember how I said environmentalism was anti-Christian? According to Christian scientists, “false beliefs are the procuring cause of all sin and disease” and medicine is a sin because it is “anti-Christian.” So by embracing common sense and going to your doctor to be treated, you are anti-Christian.

In the end, do we want people to subscribe to spiritual warfare, who deny germ theory, who insist on ignoring the evidence of their own sensory apparatus make policy, or do we want policy based on scientific principles, proven and repeatable?

I’m not saying any of this as a polytheist who believes gods have power over only their own followers but as a human being who understands that science, not religion, explains the natural world and its laws. Christian fundamentalist myth cannot be shown to justify the fears and anxiety it engenders in its followers. Simply put, there is no evidence of its efficacy. Medicine, not prayer, cures disease. Germs will kill you. And the Pacific Ring of Fire means it’s no “mystical” event when earthquakes occur on opposite shores of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s not God; it’s science, and we ignore that basic truth at our peril.

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