Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book recommendation and general beef with the world

A while back, Jon Stewart interviewed the author Sarah Vowell. She appeared to be very funny and informative, which is important when reading a history book. I finally got around to reading "The Wordy Shipmates," and I thought it was fabulous. Lots of humor, great insight into the subject (Puritan founders of Boston), and you could tell she really did her homework.

I'd like to share with you one of my favorite sections. She is talking about the rift between the ruling powers, led by John Winthrop, and the upstart Anne Hutchinson. Hutchinson is what we would call "born-again," in that she believes that belief and religious authority comes from an immediate, personal relationship with God, rather than formal Biblical interpretation by church elders. This is in direct contrast with the status quo; hence, the rift. Vowell also talks about how this move forward in Protestanism is the guiding hand in developing self-government. The quote then:

"On the other hand, Protestantism's shedding away of authority, as evidenced by my mother's proclamation that I needn't go to church or listen to a preacher to achieve salvation, inspires self-reliance -- along with a dangerous disregard for expertise. So the impulse that leads to democracy can also be the downside of democracy -- namely, a suspicion of people who know what they're talking about. It's why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol' boy who's fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people laid off or killed." --Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates, pgs 214-5

This says a lot, I think. This distrust of the knowledgable is rampant in this country right now. And sure, a lot of that has to do with the above-mentioned Protestant ethic that you should be able to worship in your own way without heeding the rules and laws of a religious governing body. To a point, that's a great sentiment. But taken too far, as I think it has been, this idea creates a population that doesn't want to listen to anyone who might know better. About anything.

This goes hand-in-hand with Faith. The definition of faith is "believing without seeing." To my mind, it has (d)evolved into "believing in spite of seeing," considering that no amount of evidence to the contrary will sway these people from their beliefs. It stands to reason that if they've been brought up to think of this as a noble ideal, then they will also devalue anyone who requires facts to support an opinion. They've been conditioned, through religion, to believe all sorts of made-up crap and poo-poo the science on the side of the opposition, so that they soon distrust anything that smacks of science or fact. They'll hold onto what they believe, thankyouverymuch, and you can keep your education.

It deeply saddens me that this faction of our population seem to be much more vocal and organized than the thinkers. This is why Massachusetts just voted, essentially, to kill the health care bill. Somehow, the people who believe that everyone deserves health care weren't passionate enough about it to get out to the polls. On the other hand, those who've been convinced that "the guvmint ain't gonna tell them where to git their doctorin" managed to cast their votes. The Republican leadership managed to convince a lot of blue-collar citizens that they shouldn't have health care. Pretty amazing, until you realize that these are the same people that believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. Apparently, they'll believe anything, as long as it doesn't contradict what they already believe and plays into their fervent desire to remain as ignorant as possible.