Tuesday, March 9, 2010

America’s Nut Factory

Faith had just explained to her class that—even supposing fossils are real—which they aren't—whenever a new fossil is found, that would just mean that now there are two gaps in the so-called fossil record. She paused, savoring the neatness of the argument. The kids were a little young, but they were looking up at her attentively, and none of them seemed puzzled—except, of course, Clara, who raised her hand.

"Yes, Clara. What is it?"

"But, Mrs. Bottom, wouldn't the gaps get littler and littler?"

"Well, I suppose so, but there would always be gaps, wouldn't there?"

"Yes, but…" Ten year old Clara struggled. There was something wrong, but what? "When I walk to school, there are gaps between my steps, but I still get here." Dissatisfied, she bit her lip.

"But footsteps aren't fossils are they, Clara?" Faith looked around the class for support, and several of the kids dutifully snickered. More turned to stare at the heretic in their midst.

Clara knew better than to press on, but she couldn't help it. "Well, what about when we play connect the dots? If they are close together, you can see what the picture is going to be. Unless you just pretend you can't."

"I think you are the one who pretends she can." More snickering. "Besides, it doesn't matter, Clara. Satan put fossils in the ground to deceive us."

Knowing she should just shut up, Clara wailed, "But why would God let him?"

"Now, that's enough, young lady. Are you questioning the will of God? Should I speak to your parents?"

Miserable and terrified, Clara gave in. "No, ma'am." After class, when the other kids were sing-songing "Clara's going to he-ell," she resolved, not for the first time, never to ask any more questions.

Where do they come from, the people who seem ready to promote a point of view by any means, foul or fouler? Fundy school, of course. Compulsion of some kind, and deceit of every kind, are essential to the fundamentalist community. Irrational beliefs cannot be sustained otherwise.

When children are taught such nonsense as creationism, they don't just learn the nonsense. They also learn the bogus arguments offered in support of it. They learn about straw men, equivocation, appeal to authority, to the stick, to the crowd, etc, not as counterfeits to be rejected, but as sound coin of the realm of thought, accepted in all the commerce of their synapses. They become as if brain damaged, almost physiologically incapable of grasping why such argument is worthless.

Such is the fate of those to those who, unlike Clara, are not naturally bright enough to suspect something wrong with the "truths" their preacher, their parents, their Fundy School teachers insist upon. They are the lucky ones. Clara's future could be darker.

It isn't enough just to repress the normal curiosity of a child and stop asking questions. The fundamentalist community cannot brook mere acquiescence. Clara must give service of word and deed to ideas she doubts. She is terrified of hell, and wants to believe, but a sane person cannot believe something merely because she is afraid of the consequences of disbelief. Only a crazy person can do that. If the strain is too great for her, Clara may have a psychotic break—become delusional—just to convince herself she believes what she does not.

There is another possibility: If Clara is smart enough and can bear the strain long enough, she may discover that hell is a lie, that all the things the adults in her life insist she must believe—or else—are lies. By learning, precociously, to think for herself, she can escape their delusions.

This may seem a liberating step, but if Clara would also escape whipping she cannot let anyone know what her real beliefs are. She must be a conscious hypocrite. She must tell people, not what she thinks, but what they want to hear. When you do that, people don't treat you cruelly. Better, they can be talked into doing things for you. The isolation of a child in such circumstances is profound, and her contempt grows with her skills at manipulation. She is a nascent sociopath.

I hope Clara will escape both these evils, with no damage worse than years of therapy can manage. Many do. Many more, I fear, do not.

Fundy School is child abuse. Its product is damaged and dangerous adults, ready to lie for Jesus, or against global warming, or for a faith-based capitalism that would privatize everything but privacy. The only guide to "truth" they can conceive is authority. They admire what they perceive as strength—not character, but wealth, power and thuggishness—and are contemptuous of those they think weak. They are capable of atrocities in the name of Jesus or Mohamed, and incapable of perceiving the contradiction, or caring if they do. Like many abused children, they have grown up to become abusers, with an inner rage that longs for violence, providing they can feel righteous as they kill. So they wait, impatiently, for the Leader to tell them who the Jews are, this time.