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.