Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Rant: Why Do So Many Americans Put Their Faith in Prayer but Not in Science?

I’ve become a Weather Channel junkie lately. Not so much the teevee version, which has become contaminated with the same devotion to slickness and celebrity as have all other no longer watchable American media outlets, from CNN to ESPN to the History Channel. The MTV-ification of mainstream television, with its minuscule attention span, worship of consumerism and fast cutting images (seriously, if you are someone who still watches television, try counting the number of times the camera angle changes in a minute’s time on almost any show. I’ll bet 15-20 is the average these days) was completed in the decade after 9/11. TWC was one of the last networks I stopped watching altogether, right about the time they announced they were hiring the utterly vacuous celebritard Al Roker as on-air “talent.”

No, what’s riveted my attention lately is the Weather Channel’s website as a series of natural disasters, from floods, to fires to epic tornadoes, have spread across the landscape. Hardly a day has passed since March when somebody, somewhere hasn’t been getting their butts kicked by Mother Nature. From Joplin, to Tuscaloosa, to Cairo, to Minot to New Mexico, it has been quite an unfolding spectacle.

As with any mainstream media website it is almost as fascinating to peruse the reader’s comments as it is to read the articles, as they truly give one insight into the infantile mindset of so many of our fellow citizens. People these days have no hesitation about sharing their ignorant opinions in a medium where they can be read by anyone. What’s worse, we must remember, the ones doing the commenting are likely a bit better educated and more affluent than the average person if they have the means and know how to access a computer. It would be really funny if it wasn’t so damn depressing.

Every website has its own unique brand of lunkhead commenter. On the sports sites it's the morons who have divided up into rabid tribes on the basis of their worship of one group of overpaid millionaire athletes versus all of the others. Economic sites seem to be dominated by Cro-magnon, selfish Randians and teabagger types who would prefer if any “parasite” other than themselves receiving government largess wither and die already. And probably worst are the news sites, where you can always count on some boob to go on and on about Obama’s birth certificate, or his being a socialist, or a Nazi, or a communist, or any dumb thing other than the very legitimate criticisms that could be levelled at his actual policies.

Being devoted to a relatively uncontroversial subject like the weather, you’d think the Weather Channel would be immune from such idiocy. Well, you’d be wrong about that. Just last Friday, in fact, there was a routine story about some powerful thunderstorms that swept through Chicago. Here was the very first comment left on The Weather Channel’s website: “Maybe we should start allowing God back into our country.” Two hours after it was posted it had already drawn 45 “Likes.” And from what I’ve seen in my regular reading of the site, this is pretty typical. Disaster happens and the Weather Channel commenters start falling all over themselves to send out their prayers and make other comments like the one above.

Before anyone gets upset with me for being a religious hater, I’ll state right up front that I have no automatic quarrel with religious people. Joe, my best friend from high school who I’ve written about, is a born-again Christian, and he’s one of the most decent people I know. Some people use religion as a personal force for good to help them cope with life’s madness and I have no problem with that. Sometimes I envy them, in fact. If the Weather Channel commenters want to send their prayers to total strangers in cyberspace, that’s really their business.

The problem is that whenever a comment then gets posted about Climate Change, it will immediately be followed by a bunch of denialist nonsense, often by those very same religious commenters. Pray for the tornado victims, is the mantra, but don’t EVER consider changing the habits that may have helped create the conditions that made the tornado more powerful. That's GOD'S will.

If it were the Fox News website, you might expect this type of stuff. Devotees of Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda machine often loudly proclaim their religious beliefs while denying science and promoting the corporatist party line. But this is the freaking WEATHER CHANNEL, for fuck’s sake. If its programming were any blander and less threatening, they’d have to change the name to The Tapioca Channel.

Sadly, this is just another example how impossible it would be to try to turn things around in this country. As long as people have no shame about loudly proclaiming lack of belief in science as if science and religion have equal merit in explaining phenomena the physical world, and as long as our craven politicians are willing to pander to them in order to win their votes, we are are going to continue to speed towards the abyss at 120 MPH.

The real Bill Hicks, after hearing a fundamentalist Christian assert that God had put dinosaur fossils on the Earth “to test our faith,” replied: “I think God put YOU here to test MY faith, dude.” As usual, Bill captured exactly how I feel better than I ever could.


  1. It's a lot easier to "pray for the victims" than it is to actually own up to any responsibility for their plight.

    Too often, these days, religion is very little more than an expression of an ardent wish to disown any responsibility. Responsibility for educating oneself, responsibility for the thoughtful selection of leadership, responsibility for personal choices.

    All too difficult for the typical American religious nut. By putting one's faith in God over responsibility for everyday matters, one is totally absolved from taking on any oneself.

    Just make sure you vote for the guy or gal who promises to persecute gays and criminalize the reproductive choices of women, and you're golden.

    No need to think, no need to learn, no need to make tough choices. Yep, there's a lot of appeal in that, isn't there? No wonder every year sees the growth of the Happy Churches and the virtual deification of ignorance and superstition. Could there be a better expression and escape from the complexities and dilemmas of modern American culture?

  2. One thing that gets me is the number of these "religious" folks who appear to have never actually read the Bible. They claim it is the literal word of God, so you would think they would want to be pretty familiar with it. Instead, they let various televangelists (in my opinion, the religions equivalents of Paris Hilton) throw Bible quotes at them out of context, and take that as their template for how to live / make decisions / judge people. Drives me nuts...

    I guess that is another version of abdicating responsibility - responsibility to even read the Bible and know what they are talking about in relation to their own beliefs. I think that observation was very astute, and could be applied also to the folks who say 'we're doomed', but then never go on to change their own habits. I think part of what's wrong with the world is that a lot of folks just don't seem to be willing or able to take responsibility for their own behavior, altogether.

  3. Perhaps at least religion gives people consistent results (no answer/explanation). Science is so terribly confusing with all its ups and downs and unpredictability. Religion is the obvious cheat sheet.

    I assume you make the connection to man-induced global warming/climate change with the widespread odd weather patterns, no?

  4. John Scotus Eurigena put it best in 840 AD

    “We do not know what God is. God himself doesn’t know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.”

    Of course he was, by most accounts, stabbed to death by his students with their pens later in life.

    Religion, like any concept or system of beliefs, can be an over-used crutch for the rationally ignorant and, especially, the willfully ignorant.

    When it comes to hard sciences I have just as much faith between in Calculus as I do in the Apostle James. Social sciences, on the other hand, are right up their with televangelists for the most part.

    Perhaps Einstein said it best -

    "A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."

  5. @ConArtist - While not an absolute certainty, there is plenty of physical evidence to support the theory that climate change is both real and caused by industrial activity.

  6. @MrNiceGuy - very good point about the social sciences. Economics should be at the head of that list.

  7. First off, just started reading your blog after seeing the link on Decline of the Empire. Well written!
    Regarding religion, what I find most amusing is the attribute of 'faith'. When people are told by their religious leaders to believe something wacky they are told to use their faith, described as the the valuable ability to believe something illogical just because they are supposed to. If they question it, they are told they have weak faith and its their problem, not the churches'.

  8. @John D - thanks for the compliment. It's funny, without so called religious "leaders" religion would probably be mostly a force for good in the world.