Faith-Based Realities

A comment to yesterday’s blog on “fact rejection” referenced a similar meditation by Paul Krugman. Krugman, as one might expect, focused upon the phenomenon in the context of economic dogma versus performance.

You might wonder why monetary theory gets treated like evolution or climate change. Isn’t the question of how to manage the money supply a technical issue, not a matter of theological doctrine?

Can anything reverse this descent into dogma? A few conservative intellectuals have been trying to persuade their movement to embrace monetary activism, but they’re ever more marginalized. And that’s just what Mr. Nyhan’s article would lead us to expect. When faith — including faith-based economics — meets evidence, evidence doesn’t stand a chance.

Seven years ago, I wrote a book titled God and Country: America in Red and Blue (still available through Amazon if anyone is interested), in which I explored–among other things–the effect of America’s early Calvinism on present-day social welfare and poverty policies.

My research confirmed that several of our ostensibly secular policy preferences have decidedly religious roots. From poverty to foreign policy to the environment, religious world views are far more potent than most of us realize.

Our everyday experiences with “reality rejection” tend to reinforce the prevalence of the phenomenon.  At least mine do.

Several years ago, I was the guest on a call-in radio program in Charleston, South Carolina, and the discussion turned to what was then a hot issue: posting the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. A caller who favored doing so “quoted” James Madison to the effect that the Bill of Rights could only be entrusted to people who lived by the Ten Commandments. The quote had been previously circulated by an extremist organization and thoroughly discredited; Madison had not only never said anything of the sort, but the sentiment was contrary to everything he did say.

I politely informed the caller that his information was incorrect, and referred him to a Madison scholar for verification, whereupon he yelled “Well, I think it’s true!” and hung up.

Those of us who try to live in the “reality-based community” have our jobs cut out for us.


  1. That one quote, “Well, I think it’s true.” and the following hang up is a perfect description of staunch Republicans. The staunch Republicans in my family and from my old neighborhood use today’s version of hanging up on me – they cut me off of their E-mail and Facebook friends lists. It must be frustrating because slamming down a telephone receiver is so much more rewarding to the slammer:) I don’t mind being the slammee except for the fact that it is of ultimost importance to find a way to reach these people; they are the ones who continue electing the current members we have in Congress who excell in obstructionism and hanging up on this state and country.

  2. As a genetic, life-long Democrat, I think it’s unfair to characterize this as a Republican issue. It is an issue for both major parties. It has become the norm for every story to be spun, no matter who’s telling it. Our “free press” is increasingly controlled by profits for the owners and stockholders through ad revenues, not by discovering and reporting the back stories and fact checking. The local TV news is as informative with the sound muted as with it on – I can read the traffic and weather maps for myself. I see this trend in public broadcasting especially at the local level. It is disheartening to think that there may be no source of factual information in a decade or two.

  3. The Right has elevated our “Founding Fathers” to mythical proportions of a religious cult. The Right has elevated the “Founding Fathers” into modern day Apostles. The thought process is if we can only find the true meaning or path in the words in the Federalist Papers, or Madison’s, Jefferson’s or someone writings than we will be purified in thought and thus governance.

    The Right reminds of some people on the Left I have met that used Marx, Lenin or Trotsky as the sources of political and social wisdom. The “Founding Fathers” were not gods.

    There seems to be for some people the necessity to discover a dogma to live by and the creation of a personality cult.

    Long gone are the days when the Right had a William Buckley who could through his intelligence and logic would advocate a certain position. I did not agree with everything Buckley said, but I admired his methods.

  4. I’m an extremist in regard to the Internet and its potential to support lifelong learning. However I recognize that the world’s largest library is unconcerned with correct vs incorrect. So, the good news is that there are no longer limits on the potential for learning regardless of your age and station. The bad is that one has to be very careful assigning credibility to unseen faces and sources.

    I am personally comfortable in my ability to sort the truth from the snake oil, but if someone asked me why I believe that, I’d have to pause and think. Can I also be a victim of believing what I wish to be true? If not, how do I avoid it?

    One answer to that question comes from being pretty well grounded in science. My traditional education, while becoming more obsolete daily, still serves me in good stead in terms of fundamentals from which I can judge credible from in-credible. Plus science is based on evidence so, like a jury, the preponderance of evidence is always a good guide.

    Outside of the field of science the evidence rule of thumb is also useful. I guess that makes me a skeptic. Things aren’t true because someone says they are, they are true when the preponderance of evidence falls on their side.

    So I look for the presentation of evidence. Data when appropriate. Comparisons with other possibilities. The development of the case for and against.

    Learning is more work than being entertained is. Perhaps that’s the limitation to lifelong learning. But, the stakes for learning are growing. We can’t afford the entertainment culture that many have been addicted to. We need to adapt to that high stakes environment and let the entertainment peddlers find more useful work.

  5. We have indeed become an entertainment culture–we have children and young adults who cannot tell fact from fiction if either one bit them in the hinder parts. Ex: playing video war games 24 hours a day, “reality” shows, Slenderman, taking out folks who ‘done me wrong,’ and so much more.

    They don’t want facts–got no use fer ’em! Give them stuff they agree with, whether it’s true or not.

    Have you seen a Reader’s Digest lately? It’s blurb-speak. Short pieces with little meat left on the bone. They are appealing to very short attention spans. If their readers can read, they won’t read very long at a time. In a comparison of Reader’s Digest now and one from 25 years ago, you cannot believe the changes. I understand that it’s a ‘digest’ but the digest has been digested yet again ’til there are just blurbs on the pages. Daily newspapers are pretty much the same, with a few exceptions (Sheila’s NYT, for example).

    The Golden Rule has also been abused. We’ve come to understand that he who has the gold makes the rules, and it’s not pretty.

  6. I don’t know how many get the forwarded emails that start with “You won’t believe this, but Obama…” and end with “We dare you to forward this to someone you know”. Once in a while, I get one, and knowing that 85% of the forwarded junk is false, I usually find it in I reply (sometimes to “reply all”, so it goes to 500 people) along with the conclusion and link showing why it’s all fabricated and libelous. Sometimes I add that the first amendment was written so that people could learn the truth and be knowledgeable when they voted, but that this is treasonous because it serves to undermine the republic. For some reason, nobody ever thanks me for my effort or says, “You mean this is all baloney? I’m really sorry about that.” I guess some people like their beliefs evidence-free unless the story fits their hatred. For some reason, I don’t get many forwarded political emails anymore.

  7. Stuart; have you seen or received any of Porter Stansberry’s crap? He changes the person targeted and titles but they are all long, drawn out bids for money, blathering his nonsense with nothing informative about the end of Obama, Clinton or America. I always comment – in all capital letters – debunking his lies. My action helps no one but myself; I just cannot seem to let these articles go without comment.

  8. JoAnn, the next time you get something from the guy, send a complaint to the Indiana Attorney General, and “Reply All” which will include Stansberry. He may not read your stuff to him, but he may read your stuff to the Attorney General. Could be fun. And if Zoeller actually pays attention to your complaint, he will have done something constructive in 2014.

  9. Stuart, you are brave person to do that ‘reply all’. It’s funny to read that someone does that and like you, I don’t get those political junk emails anymore after doing exactly the same!

  10. @Stuart, JoAnn, and Aging Little Girl: I too hit ‘reply all’ and fire back at the nonsense sent to me, including the location at where the myth or urban legend is debunked.

    Those who believe that stuff are in denial and very defensive. Most never thank me for exposing the legend. The latest was something about a sick child and a ‘Last Dance’. I knew it was bogus and I hit ‘reply all’, suggesting that they always check Snopes–further, that they could donate to St. Jude, the Red Cross, their church or other worthwhile legitimate charity.

    Topping that off, two friends of the overly-sensitive sender of the junk laid into me unmercifully. I’m through with all of them. The sender is a complete Bible-thumping tea partier who is slipping into dementia–a fact I should have remembered in order to save myself a lot of time and frustration.

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