Monday, February 27, 2012

"How could they believe this stuff?" -- Trying To Understand the Republican Base

The base of the Republican Party is to be pitied more than feared. They have literally been conditioned to fear their own brains. Their religious indoctrination has actually destroyed their ability to reason. No wonder they eagerly believe in Fox News' alternative reality.

Outside observers here in the US and overseas shake their heads in wonderment over just how it is that so many Republicans seem to literally come from somewhere else, say another planet.

"How on earth could they believe" fill-in-the-blank: that global warming is not real, that evolution never happened, that an embryo is a "person," that the right to carry a gun equals "security," that President Obama is a socialist, communist, Muslim, the Antichrist, soft on terror, a dangerous man, not a Christian, the wrong sort of Christian or that history text books should reflect America's "Christian country" status...


that Santorum could ever become president!

To help readers understand the mindset that leads to the embrace of falsehood as truth maybe I can help. I am a former insider of the religious right and the evangelical movement as I describe in my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

Insider Fact One, the backbone of the Republican Party is the American Evangelical community and the conservative Roman Catholic community.

Insider Fact Two, American Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics are raised from birth to reject common sense, learning and progress in favor of a literal interpretation of the Bible.

How do these facts contribute to the state in which the ever more fringe Republican Party finds itself in?

Simple: if your base is a group that has been trained to reject truth in favor of faith in faith, they will believe anything because rejection of what "everyone else believes" is a bedrock article of faith and your very identity.

Let's be blunt: science has rendered a literal interpretation of any scripture, be it Bible, Koran, whatever, as impossible. For many religious people this means that they have sought out deeper meanings in a spirituality that depends on a more intuitive sense of meaning and purpose than a slavish attempt to follow texts that have been simply disproven.

But for another group - the fundamentalists of all religions - modernity has been "answered" by opting out or attacking facts as lies.

Enter Madrassas of all kinds, literal -- as in Pakistan -- or virtual -- as in the Evangelical home school movement and private school movement. Enter Evangelical TV and radio and publishing industry and mega churches as personality cults. Enter the "conservative" Roman Catholic bishops cut off from their own far more tolerant (and liberal) flocks.

The rise of the religious right within religion is designed intentionally to isolate, indoctrinate and "protect" from challenging ideas. Fundamentalist leaders, be they conservative bishops or evangelical leaders, do this because actual true information is no longer helpful to the fundamentalist religious cause. So that cause becomes about controlling the minds of the faithful by cutting them off from other opinions.

Having circled the wagons and gone inward the American evangelical community and conservative Roman Catholics, now speak their own language have their own culture and they despise and fear the country they dwell in as virtual strangers. This is a self-imposed exile.

But when general elections come along the evangelical community, Roman Catholic bishops' et al, like some hibernating creature, are forced (as it were) from their cave. For a brief moment they must interact with the larger world in the full light of day.

When the fundamentalist anti-modern community emerges the rest of the population gets a rare look at how the conservative reactionary "brain" of fundamentalism works. All of a sudden the larger world is reminded that there really are people like the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic bishops who actually think contraceptives are wicked things. All of a sudden the larger world is reminded that right here amongst us are people who believe that Satan is attacking us, that we should attack Iran to make Israel safe for Jesus' return, that a sperm and egg joined 5 seconds ago is a "person", that evolution is a secularist plot, that the Federal Reserve is of the devil, etc., etc.

And the cry goes up (once again) "How could they believe this stuff?"

How indeed?

It takes training for years to reject what is true.  That training starts in a million Sunday schools and carries on through home schooling or private religious "education" and is completed in a hundred alternative Christian "colleges." It is sustained by a network of magazines like Christianity Today, World and many more. It has its own celebrity culture with heroes that no one outside the religious ghetto has heard of but who are selling literally millions of books to their followers.

Is it any wonder that a bedrock article of faith in the Republican Party is now that public schools are evil? Is it any wonder Santorum says he objects to President Obama saying all kids should work to go to college? In fact anything public and open to accountability is to be feared. Education is feared most of all.

All public space is hated because in that space, from infrastructure projects to the Federal Reserve to the UN to all government agencies, there has to be an acceptable baseline of fact that everyone buys into.  Universities and the media - both places where ideas are discussed openly - are hated most of all.

So public space is demonized because by its very nature it falls outside of the control of the "mullahs," -- i.e. the pastors and bishops and celebrity religious leaders that are fighting off facts to maintain their control of their flocks. And the government is demonized because it imposes a rule of law over and above the Bible's mandates.

And that is why "They" -- the bedrock supporters of the Republican Party -- do what they do and allow a Santorum to emerge as a serious candidate. The base of the Republican Party don't live here in our world anymore, they have moved to the Bronze Age and like it there.

The problem is that the "conservatives" (who are actually revolutionaries) are not content to just live in their private space and indoctrinate their children. They want to make the rest of us reject facts and move into their time machine with them and travel back to a world safe from truth.

And the far right of the evangelical movement and far right Roman Catholic bishops are also at war with their more moderate people.

There are many moderate religious people (I'm one), as the emergence of the Wild Goose Festival proves. Wild Goose is set to be held for the second year running in June and attracts several thousand religious people including many moderate evangelicals and Roman Catholics committed to saving religion from fanatics. Moreover I'm in the middle of a speaking tour to colleges and churches, many with religious affiliations called "Theocracy or Democracy" and far from being chased out of town I'm welcomed by many religious people. To them I'm defending religion by trying to separate faith from politics and spirituality from fundamentalism.

So by no means am I saying that all religious people fit the description of the fanatics made here. But to the extent that the evangelical/Roman Catholic fanatical wing of American religion has taken over the Republican Party their motto seems to be-- lies are truth! From the Creationist Museum to the latest falsehood about how the Dutch are killing their elderly or that Obama is "anti-religion" because he wants all women to have access to contraception,  the reaction is to just dig the falsehood hole deeper and deeper.

Brains can be altered by how they are abused and misused from early childhood on. In that sense the evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic fundamentalists are damaged people. They are hurting and lost and lashing out at reality itself.  And they are presiding over the destruction of the Republican Party.  

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway


GrannyTenderstone said...

While I agree with most of your piece, it simply isn't true that "science" has disproven scripture. I am a person very much interested inscience, but also well in tune with my spirit.

Stop trying to define matters of faith with science. They are oil and water. Science is WAY out of its league in doing so and makes itself look foolish.

That said, we on the Christian Left resent being compared to hypocrites. We are sick of getting a bad rap and STOP calling those people Christians. THEY ARE NOT. Call them the Hyppocrital Right.

You demonstrate religious BIGOTRY when you insist on alluding that all Christians are like those fake Christians. STOP IT! The Right doesn't own Christianity. And you don't know enough about all the matters of spirit, obviously, to speak on that topic.

Yes they have invaded the right and for that reason, we have to expose them and stop all the behaviors that finance and facilitate their objectives. You do no credibility to the left when you fail to add a disclaimer that you understand there are some thinking people, MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF US, who understand we can be Christians and liberals at the same time, and that Jesus is indeed the best friend the left has. Jesus was a liberal, pure and simply, and stop discounting his wisdom just because you're afraid of the rest of the scriptures. Focus on his message, it's the exact same message the buddha and other wise people have taught.

Ex-Crusader said...

@ Granny: the facts have definitely disqualified the inerrantist view of scripture. Take a look at any of the reputable biblical scholarship out there.
FYI - you realize that those "fake christians" call you the exact same thing!

@ Frank: great post. I can't tell you how amazing it was when I emerged from that tiny, insular, evangelical "ghetto" and left that thinking behind. The world became so huge! And so much more beautiful!

Frank Schaeffer said...

Thanks Ex-C, again I'm pleased we've met! F

Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi Granny T: thanks for the comment but did you actually read my post? You say "You demonstrate religious BIGOTRY when you insist on alluding that all Christians are like those fake Christians. STOP IT" Did you read me saying "There are many moderate religious people (I'm one), as the emergence of the Wild Goose Festival proves... So by no means am I saying that all religious people fit the description of the fanatics made here."

The Fool said...

Frank, you have really nailed it superbly with this latest essay. I've been wondering how long the GOP base could continue living in a secular (and hostile) world while reality was crashing down on them from all directions. The amount of energy they expend keeping the blinders on, denying science, revising history and shunning people who might invade or infect their world view must be enormous. I'll be happy to re-post this for you on my Facebook page. Well done.

Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi TF thanks! And please do re-post wherever. F

Lausten North said...

Thanks for the insight. I want to believe that the Internet is helping disperse the information, but I must admit I have had the same arguments about scripture and libertarian views over and over again. Many people are unwilling to click away from their favorite blogger or news source. Most frightening are my liberal friends that watch one video about 9/11 or mercury in vaccines and form an opinion.

My new mantra is, “how do you know?” If you know because god told you, that’s fine, but don’t expect me to be convinced. The same goes for just about any other authority figure. Unfortunately it is difficult for the average person to check up on multiple peer reviewed articles and determined that something actually has scientific consensus. It doesn’t help that consensus can take a few years to build, and sometimes changes dramatically before it is fully formed.

Andrew Richards said...

How could they? Because it's actually pretty easy.

I grew up in the Exclusive Brethren but met my wife (a preacher's kid, whose father was a liberal Baptist pastor and World Religions educator) some years after leaving the Gospel Hall. My oldest brothers, however, met women "outside the camp" and brought them "into fellowship." These were no meak and mild women either. Strong individuals who loved their husbands (and all of whom have left the GH, btw).

My wife always remarked "Had you tried to indoctrinate me, you'da never married me. There is no way I would have bought into those hardlines, that fundamentalism." To which I adamantly say: "There can be no accounting for reason, when you are convinced that Godliness is in the balance." Eg. If a hardliner can convince you that your Godliness is in question, in the end ANYONE can be manipulated into thinking nearly anything, so great is most of our's desire to do right and to please others.

People will always believe nonsense, if the first wall is eroded: that common sense is "fallen" and reason is "indoctrination."

Thinking and reasoning take attention.

JCF said...

I think there's some Nature vs Nurture stuff going on here.

As I understand it (don't have citations, but I think they can be Google'd), there are NEUROLOGICAL differences between Liberals and Conservatives.

In brief, Conservatives have heightened FEAR! response (that can be empirically measured). It's these fears that FAUX News and conservative preachers (Protestant and Roman Catholic) prey upon (furthermore, quite a few were physically abused by parents---also fearful---who in turn were formed by abuse and conservative religion which endorses it. It's a really destructive cycle).

While I would like to break the indoctrination part of it---which is, at least, conceivable---that biologically-based fear hyper-response will be an even *tougher* nut to crack. [Leads to "Can't we just put something in the water?" fantasies ;-/]

Marash Girl said...

Hey, Frank. Love your books. But just a comment on today's blog -- Science has disproven science as well!

Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi look at what I said science has made it impossible to hold onto fundamentalist views of the Bible Koran etc. I never used the word disproved.

Isaac Chavez said...


I just watched the interview you did at the Calvin Forum about your conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. In the interview you were clear when you said that you harvested no ill feelings or rebellion toward your upbringing. You also said you converted for the fullness of the faith and that your reasons were historical. Now I'm no psychologist, but I find it amazing that here you are years later railing against Protestants and Roman Catholics. Your tone has changed so much. You were so gracious, kind, and thoughtful. Now you are angry, rude, and belligerent. What happened? I saw on an interview you did with Rachel Maddow that you disrespected your mother, saying that she thought Kennedy might have been the anti-christ since he got shot in the head, and then later calling people who believe such things "beyond crazy". I am saying this as a Christian brother, but you sound very bitter. By the way I agree with much of what you say about fundamentalists, but not with your embracing of the liberal left as the answer. They're just as crazy. And I am saddened that the man I saw on the Calvin Forum is the one I saw in the Maddow interview and the author of this article. I actually am slightly hoping that you are just trying to sell your book. And I'm no pragmatist.

MickeyMusing said...

I was raised in a fundamental home where one of the principle tenets was to be 'no part of the world,' which was interpreted by this religious organization to mean stay out of the politics, governance, wars, etc. of human governments striving instead to be a good citizen of God's kingdom. It has always surprised me that modern Evangelicals are so politically active because 1.) It would seem to be in direct contradiction to Jesus' clear admonition to be 'no part of this world' and, 2.) Their attempts to legislate away 'sinful' behavior would seem to violate the very free will on which a relationship with god is supposedly built.

Thank you for describing the 'faith in faith' phenomenon. I think people who have not been raised in an Evangelical environment have a hard time with the notion that you simply cannot employ reason when talking to these folks. The less reasonable and more 'faith-based' their world view, the better Christian they are perceived to be.

Because I have family who are still deeply and sincerely invested in fundamentalism, I am sympathetic to their desire to organize their life around their faith. What I have less sympathy for is those who insist on organizing all of our lives around their faith.

Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi Mickey, thanks for the good word! F

Arcturus said...

"Bibilical scholarship"? Sort of an oxymoron isn't it?

John Payne said...

"Brains can be altered by how they are abused and misused from early childhood on. In that sense the evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic fundamentalists are damaged people. They are hurting and lost and lashing out at reality itself. And they are presiding over the destruction of the Republican Party."
If ever the pot was calling the kettle black, it is you Franky me boy. You are doing more of a disservice to your cause because you yourself are brain damaged, by your own description. I don't believe in evolution, but I am persuaded by a big bang start to the universe and a fine tuning by the God of the Genesis account. Does that make me an idiot? According to you yes. I could argue the same point on many of your hot button issues. The bottom line is your woundedness corrupts your message and your arrogance. I will be praying that you have an encounter with the living Christ and that you are able to forgive your earthly father. Then your message will be taken more seriously. But as a recovering prodigal son (and a preachers kid) I will be waiting to welcome your home when you come to your senses. Our heavenly Father is the example Franky not the spirit of this rant, and the anger you still operate in.

WeAreAllInThisTogether said...

You're a good man, Frank Schaeffer.

gocart mozart said...

The fact that you deny the overwhelming sientific evidence of evolution does in fact make you ignorant on that point Mr Payne.

John Payne said...

Do you deny the scientific fact of your anger that clouds everything that spews forth from your keyboard? You are just like the bratty kid who hasn't got his own way. But the other sad irony is that you have turned out to be just as abusive as your father seems to have been and it is really to that I challenge you.

On the issue of evolution you are wrong. But your very arrogant assumption of your own intellectual superiority is rather sad, especially as one who says he is orthodox and is a follower of Christ. There are many gaps in the evolutionary model and if you are really honest you would admit to that.

Liz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bart Breen said...

Powerful statements Frank and overall I agree with them as they are tempered toward the end even though some of that appears to almost be an afterthought.

Groupthink is a powerful thing. When people isolate themselves into their religious enclaves and make it a matter of "holiness" to brook no challenge to their thinking, then arguing with many of them equates to playing Tic Tac Toe at the carnival with a chicken. You argue with the chicken but there's a computer in the background lighting the square and reinforcing the behavior with a pellet of food when the right square is hit.

It took me years to learn that and to be able to walk away from some elements of it and reclaim the ability to think, question and even entertain an idea that wasn't already pre-approved by those who were the designated thinkers.

I appreciate your voice even if at times I don't completely agree with all you're saying. Thanks for being willing to speak up.

Latebloomer said...

Hello Frank, I've read your book Crazy for God, and really identified with your journey away from fundie Republicanism. I'm happy to have found your blog now as well.

It really is true that we are conditioned to not ask questions. My parents went to extreme lengths to try to give me the worldview they wanted...they homeschooled me, kept me isolated from most entertainment, and didn't even let me go to church youth group. The first big crack in my worldview came when I started to wonder where the Bible came from, because it certainly didn't fall from the sky in its current form. Years later, I am exactly what my parents feared, one of the worst things in the world: a political liberal without black-and-white religious opinions!

Frank Schaeffer said...

Latebloomer, Hi, thanks for the kind note. Sounds to me as if you need to talk so contact me at we all need to stick together. Best, F