Church

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Back in the mid-1990’s, a friend of mine emailed me an incredibly ridiculous and obviously fabricated story about an “atheist college professor” and a student. I can’t remember the story, and I refuse to look it up, but gist of it was the college professor was challenging the faith of the student, a miracle occurred and everyone fell to their knees and prayed.

The story listed no names, no dates, no facts at all, and was vague in all regards to anything at all that might have defined more clearly when and where and who. But it was my first encounter with the the “atheist college professor” stories. There’s quite a few now.

Yesterday, I took Mama to church, and I went in hoping that for some sort of social contact for Mom. About ten minutes deep into the sermon, the preacher said, “how are we going to send children to face the ‘atheist college professors’?” and I nearly walked out.

My hostility towards religion in general, and towards Christianity in particular, is certainly a function of my personal disdain for the systemic methods of the used car salesman techniques employed by those who practice Christianity. But used cars are sold each day. It’s an effective practice, and because religion is a very profitable business, it is to be expected to find such. That my grandmother’s religion, my mother’s mother, has been turned into a commercial enterprise for men and women who have repackaged it and sold it, as a commodity, and turned churches into spiritual Wal-Marts, is more than enough for me to treat the religion itself, and the people who pretend to practice it with utter contempt.
But this goes much deeper than that. We live in a time where people openly believe the world is flat! A thousand years or so has passed since that issue was settled, yet even as we speak there’s a professional basketball player who goes in front of a national audience on social media and espouses the deepest sort of nonsense and people believe him.
Growing in popularity, is the concept that ignorance is a virtue, and belief, in and of itself, when taken to heart without substantiation or the slightest hint of evidence to bolster it, is a virtue. Worse, infinitely worse, there’s a disdain for anything educational. It’s as if the process of education itself, at any level, for any reason, is somehow heretical, or blasphemous.
This is dangerous to the extreme when dealing with people who, because they read something on the internet, believe vaccines cause a variety of maladies, including autism on children, even though there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Now, in the year 2019, measles, a disease all but eradicated through the use of vaccines, is spreading again. The “my beliefs are sacred even to the detriment of society” movement is gaining strength, even as it sickens and kills.
In 2006, a woman accused members of a sports team of rape. It was an easy thing to believe, that a group of young, privileged, white men, drank themselves into attacking a woman. But the DNA evidence said otherwise. The woman’s story unraveled further when one of the young men she positively identified was shown to be absent from the scene of the crime entirely. Yet when interviewing other students at Duke, this response was recorded, “That DNA stuff is just crazy, who believes it?”

We are training our citizens to choose their reality based on belief, and belief alone. What feels good, what sounds right, and what we have always thought was true, is, simply because we think it is so. Those who teach, instruct, and offer systems of thinking that counter or contradict are messengers of evil and are to be distrusted. Volume, yelling, screaming, drowning out an opponent with obscenities or untruths, intentional or not, is considered a proper method of debate. Any source, regardless of its content or origin, is considered doctrine, as long as it agrees with a beloved assertion.

Were there a simple fix, some national realization of peril even, there might be hope. But the money to be made off of the ignorant drives the desire to make sure it continues. If a man has no idea how a car operates, then by looks and how it makes him feel alone are selling points. He’ll shell out hard earned money for transportation regardless of its quality. Likewise, if you can convince a populace that education, critical thinking, facts, evidence, and peer reviewed research, all of it, is equal to belief, then you can sell them any other idea, at a premium.

We aren’t going to send our children to face “atheist college professors”. Increasingly, higher education is for those who can afford it. The rich can buy their way in, and you have to think, buy their way through, universities. This is a cycle which circles; only those who can afford college can go. Those who can go make more money than those who cannot. We’re left with less educated citizens, and worse, citizens who distrust education. I shouldn’t have to tell you what it means to have an electorate whose means of selection has nothing at all to do with how educated they are.

There isn’t a way out of this. We can’t simply wake up one day and start valuing education and critical thinking and hope people are going to flock to it because it’s a good idea. Ignorance has become a sellable condition. People will pay to become less knowledgeable. They will give money to other people who tell them education is wrong and thinking is dangerous. Our society is being sown with ideas that are unprovable, and even if they are disproved, evidence can simply be labeled as “fake news” and ignored. Go with what feels good. Believe what makes you happy. Read only from sources that agree with you. Listen to only what you’ve learn before, like your favorite music, because you like it.

What I heard in church yesterday was passive aggressive hate speech wrapped in fear mongering, by a used car salesman who told a willing audience his beliefs were what they needed to buy. The number of people willing to pay for this sort of thing will teach him to repeat it.

Take Care,
Mike

The Nest of Moccasins

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This may be one of those urban myths that gets passed around so often that it seems true, simply because it has been heard again and again. Odd thing this creature, when I was a child I heard the story of a young girl who was water skiing and she fell into the water. As the boat came to pick her up, they discovered she had fallen into “a nest of moccasins” and some of them were still attached to the dead body. As I grew up nearly everyone had heard this story, and nearly every lake of any size had this event happen there, but no one could ever come up with the victim’s name, a date on which it occurred, or even so much as an idea of what year it had happened. But because it was repeated it was believed. The story I refer to is the story of Anne Rice’s novel, “The Interview with A Vampire”. I have heard it sold very poorly at first, but the book was passed around from person to person and simple word of mouth kicked off a worldwide fascination with vampires, once again.

 

 

In stark contrast, and in an unusual cohabitation, I grew up with both snake myths and among people who read. My first real stand against one, using the strength of the other, failed, and failed miserably, and I wondered how a society that loved to read could still hate snakes. I still wonder how knowledge is kept in less respect than fable, but considering the success of religion there has to be some genetic source for it.

 

 

I had friends who read, and read as if their mind devoured books as a means for survival, and considering the state of rural South Georgia, I will allow this might have been true. Books were hardbound and heavy, but a burden that we bore without complaint, for what was there to be done about it? Libraries were gold mines, they were buffets for the brain, and they were the first and last, and sometimes only, refuge from the world where people believed in Hoop Snakes and talking snakes. We never considered ourselves a network of any sorts but once a book was deemed a good read it would be passed around like a joint, to affect the mind of each person that held it, and inhaled it. To sit down with a new book was like kissing a woman for the first time. I can remember going through every page before the beginning. When was the book copy righted? How many printings? Were there notes? Was there a name on the inside cover? I had a ritual for books that required certain knowledge and investigation before the beginning. It was foreplay of the foreword.

 

 

I was a fool. I admit that now, now that it is too late to do anything about it. When computers became ubiquitous I assumed that knowledge would follow. I assumed that given the tools to disseminate information, that we humans would share our thoughts and would share our abilities, and just like my network of readers back when a pocket calculator was a scientific achievement, I thought that we would use this tool to sharpen the mind, not blunt it. What I should have seen was how we were, when given books that told us, very specifically, which snakes were venomous and which were harmless, yet we still blasted away with guns and in terror, that the internet would take its form from superstition and fear rather than that of the intellect.

 

 

As a child, when television first became a household item, and color television became a luxury that no one could live without, I saw that it was a bad idea. There was no way to control the content, and there was no way to control the scheduling, and viewers would be held captive by the whims of those who did control these things. Yet even when these obstacles were overcome, television remained, for the most part, an intellectual wasteland. What made a program a success could be guided by an algorithm and each new program became a clone of the last which had finally run out of even the most outlandish, yet trite, ideas.

 

 

The internet, I first believed, was different. There, at anyone’s fingertips, was information and knowledge. I did not foresee opinion, opinion screamed at a volume where content is irrelevant, becoming how people were educated, or de-educated as it were, on nearly every topic of conversation. I never thought people would submerge themselves in echo chambers and listen to nothing but the sound of their own thoughts, magnified and blasted back into their brains.

 

The myth of the Hoop Snake might have foreshadowed all of this, actually, but it is one thing to underestimate simple ignorance, and yet is it downright perilous to underestimate stupidity, and willful ignorance.

 

 

I’m not sure how to begin this. I’m not sure it will make a difference, or if this is just my way of being one of the last dinosaurs, shivering and alone, wandering a world I no longer recognize. Yet I still believe in the power, and the magic, and the value, of reading. I may not be able to stem the rising tide of sound bite philosophy and high volume screaming politics, but I can promote the one thing that I think makes the most difference in how a human being thinks and trains to think; reading.

 

The Mike Firesmith Nomadic Library and Book Exchange, will henceforth begin. I will send books to people and maybe other people will, too. If I can get others to join me we will become The Nest of Moccasins, a group of readers who will send book off to ensnare other human beings into becoming readers. I have no real idea how to begin this, except I have a lot of books, and I have to believe there are other people out there who still read. At some point in our history, there was a person who first shared a book, and the reason was love for reading. If this must begin somewhere then, happily, let it begin again, here, and now, with me.