I recently read a really great, and very important article by Ray Williams titled,
“The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the ‘dumbing down’ of America.”
You really should make it required reading for yourself, and then spread it around as much as possible.
One statement the author makes is
“There has been a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in America.”
He gives various reasons, statistics and (sadly) continuing trends that contribute to this “dumbing down.”
There are a couple of items (prompted by a friend’s response) I’d like to briefly expound on here.
1st, there’s the Hate and Fear Factor.
Misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. rely on willful ignorance. They insist on broad stereotypes, and a very strong “us vs. them” mentality. This mentality must remain immune to facts, understanding or any friendly, intentional interaction with the “other.” You can’t get to know “them” as people. They must remain a concept. An evil, “they will destroy me” idea, rather than human beings.
Hate and fear are powerful motivators that must suppress reasonable thought.
They are great tools of manipulation, frequently employed by politicians and religious leaders.
Which brings me to my second point: Religion.
Let me start with something positive. There have been many, many people who, because of their “faith,” have stood on the right side of history. They have stood for social justice, equality and freedom. But, these voices have almost always been opposed by the power structures of their very own religion.
Heretics, tortured for believing that the earth revolves around the sun. Innocents, burned as witches. Slaves, deemed to be animals, rather than people. Women, considered “lesser” than men. LGBT people, labeled as “hated by God.” Each and every case, backed up by the Bible and the bold declaration, “It’s not me. It’s God!”
That, of course, continues to be the case today.
I, myself, used to promote willful ignorance. I remember I used to be taught (and taught others) “If science disagrees with the Bible, then the science is wrong.” Which, of course, is why people were killed for saying the earth revolves around the sun.
In essence, we were saying,
“Look. I don’t care what facts you put in my face. If it doesn’t match my limited understanding and interpretation of some cherished ancient text, then I’m going to willfully ignore those facts in favor of maintaining my “belief system.”
And, in case you’re thinking I’m just picking on Christianity, I’m not. The same goes for most religions and “sacred” texts.
Some turn to Atheism in order to maintain intellectual integrity. That’s a valid choice, but it is not mine. I wish to be a part of the long, but often suppressed, tradition of voices that state, “I believe in God, and I believe in reason.” I know some who do not believe that is possible, but I do.
But here’s the thing; I must never allow my belief in God to justify any of the ills previously mentioned. I must never allow my belief to suppress other beliefs, unless those beliefs cause harm to others, or seek to keep them from the same rights I enjoy.
You can certainly believe as you wish. Ultimately, it’s your actions that matter to me.
If following your God requires you to keep women from voting, African Americans from freedom, gay people from getting married, or foreigners from entering our Country, then your god isn’t worth following. And to repeat my intentionally controversial statement, “That god can go to hell!”
If your first response to scientific facts or basic human rights is “No, because my Bible says…” you are choosing willful ignorance. Please stop thinking that could somehow be pleasing to any Creator.
NOW, mix the political “hate and fear” with the “religion” element. Well, history has repeatedly shown us how that plays out. Unless, of course, we choose willful ignorance.