Thursday, October 14, 2004

Prideful Ignorance

Do you remember, in elementary school, when it was the worst shame imaginable to be called upon when you didn't know the answer, barring only the prospect of blanking out while standing in front of the class during the highly competitive "blackboard races" teachers were fond of officiating during rainy recess periods?

Then, sometime in junior high or high school, there was suddenly this kid who could make not knowing the answer look cool. It was like he just didn't care enough to try, and of course not caring is the the very height of coolness. This attitude caught on like wildfire, and pretty soon it was absolutely uncool to "be smart", which really just meant having some vague idea of what was going on in the classroom.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Governor Bush proved that he is, indeed, schoolboy cool. Waaaay cooler, in fact, than his smartypants "liberal intellectual" opponent. Bush didn't seem the slightest bit ashamed when he demonstrated an appalling lack of basic knowledge about foreign leaders and the locations of foreign countries, let alone understanding of foreign policy. Meanwhile, Vice President Gore was chided for throwing around "too many facts and figures" and using "fuzzy math" in the debates. Bear with me for a moment while I build up to one reason, I think, why Conservative and Ignorance walk proudly hand-in-hand lately.

First you have Catholicism, where laypeople have not always been encouraged to read the Bible themselves; priests interpret The Word of God for the masses. Indeed, Catholics go through intercessary priests to be granted absolution for their sins.

Then Protestants come along. Protestants are encouraged to read along and even study the Bible on their own, coming to church to hear interpretative sermons by educated ministers who have taken classes on exegesis as context for their own faith experiences. Protestants are encouraged to confess their sins directly to God, cutting out one important layer of the priestly middle-man.

Finally you have the evangelical Christians. There's a feeling here that every man's reading of the scripture and communication with the Lord is as valid as any other man's. Pastors rarely have (graduate) seminary degrees and sometimes don't even have bachelor's degrees. Religious scholars and theologians are ridiculed. It's not the book-smarts that matter; it's all about the Spirit, baby. The evangelical Christians' stronghold in the Republican party is contributing to the culture of prideful ignorance.

Plus, it's easier to be ignorant.

And keeping things the same is pretty much what "conservative" means, anyway.

As President Clinton said on The Daily Show in August, "When people think, [Democrats] win."

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