Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Poor Man: Moral Values Reconsidered

If you don't believe in evolution, if you believe that Noah had pet dinosaurs and trilobites, you will obviously have no problem in treating any infection you or your family gets with the dosages of penicillin that were effective in the 1930's, since, as organisms do not evolve in response to changes in their environment, this will work as well it did then, amen. It's much cheaper. But, of course, nobody in Dover is ever going to take this entirely rational step, because actual belief and actual rationality has nothing to do with it. This is about fear - the fear that the theory of evolution points out a flaw in a world view which puts them in a privileged position in the universe. In this construction, having "moral values" is code for publicly upholding black-and-white rules which are gerrymandered so as to always prove that you are right and everyone else is wrong, and uphold these rules in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is how it is possible to treat a bad Mel Gibson movie about how an innocent Middle Eastern man was tortured to death 2,000 years ago by an occupying army as an important cultural moment and moral lesson, and then consider our occupying armies torturing some unknown number of Middle Eastern men to death no big deal, and then reward the folks who ordered this torture with another term in office using as your justification "moral values". There may not be much point in making rational appeals here. Rationality may be the problem.

This is a lot like what has been worrying me lately. I posted an entry earlier about how there are a lot of fundies who believe in the literal truth of Genesis, but want their kids to learn some actual science. These folks are living with a level of cognitive dissonance that would blow my head clean off.

I am trying to make my way through Karen Armstrong's "Battle For God," which addresses some of these issues in an exhaustively thick historical context. It has already helped me to see how utterly different modernism and fundamentalism are. More in a future installment, if my brain doesn't explode first.


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