September 26, 2013 |
But while a nudge and a laugh at the silly Christian hypocrites is a good time, it’s worth looking deeper at what’s really going on with the parsimonious haters of the poor who claim to speak for Jesus. The fact of the matter is that right-wing Christians refuse to see their differences with Jesus as hypocrisy. To really understand how religion works in the world of politics, it helps to understand that it’s usually more about rationalizing what you already want to believe than it is about actually studying your religious texts and drawing intelligent conclusions from it.
what’s going on when Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and current conservative activist says things like there is “nothing more Christian” than cutting needy people off food stamps? It may seem like the rational thing for Blackwell to have done was simply admit that there’s nothing in the Bible that even comes close to suggesting that it’s good for people to be forced into starvation simply because they had the misfortune of living in a time of high unemployment. After all, Jesus just simply gave people the loaves and the fishes. He didn’t withhold the food, and like Blackwell did, say that being able to eat food would “breed dependency” and that starving the poor was a good way of “empowering others and creating self-sufficiency."
Blackwell is stretching; it’s obvious he’s stretching. So why go there at all? Well, as stupid as he sounds, it’s the rational choice. Being considered a Christian means you get a lot of unearned esteem from the public, and you’re given a lot more benefit of the doubt than if you claimed to be, say, an atheist. Indeed, for many audiences, it’s better to sound like an idiot while claiming to be Christian than to sound intelligent without mentioning religion at all. It makes sense that a politician or activist would want to be perceived as a Christian even if they have to bend themselves into pretzels to explain away the obnoxious clash between what they believe and what even the most strained but intellectually honest interpretation of their Bible would have you believe.
It’s a process called rationalization or motivated reasoning, and to be perfectly fair, it’s how most people think about most things most of the time: They choose what to believe and then look for reasons to explain why they believe it. Huge reams of psychological research show this is just how the human brain works. Almost never do we look over a bunch of arguments and choose what to believe based on reasoning our position out. As Chris Mooney at Mother Jones explains, “We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close.” Our faculties are usually put to the task of trying to defend what we already believe, not towards developing a better understanding of the world.
handing out goodies in order to recruit new believers. We weren’t there (and it probably didn’t even happen), so the sky’s the limit when making up reasons why what you believe counts as “Christian.” If you want to believe Jesus was actually a space alien brought here by Martians to teach us how to fly, you have as much right as anyone else to believe what you want. It all has equal amounts of evidence to back it up.
That’s one reason politicians love to talk about religion, because they don’t have to prove anything. But that’s the major reason religion really has no place in politics. It’s hard enough for voters and policy makers to hash through the real-world claims that fly around in politics. Trying to figure out what some silent, mythical god wants us to do is a fool’s errand. That god is always and forever going to want what the person speaking for him wants him to want, and nothing else. If Ken Blackwell was only allowed to speak for Ken Blackwell and not claim authority from on high, the true cruelty of his words would be all the easier to see.
All but the first graphic were added by Radioman.