Dueling Dual-Fact Nation 

Get used to a dual-fact society. It’s not going away anytime soon. The election of Trump legitimized alt-fact/alt-reality folks as coequal players in the world of political leadership. It all started back in the seventies with the Christian Evangelicals, the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Those who undermine ‘reason’ have been stocking up an army of strength ever since. The Evangelicals have raised a generation through home schooling, Bible memorizing madrasas, religious Colleges and Creation Museums. They feel entitled to dominate because their triune god says so in the first chapter of its holy book.

With a full string of radical fanatics competing in the last Republican Primary it took the perfect storm of anti-science Christians, and alt-right bigots to put Trump over the top and into the Oval Office. The New American Order has removed civility and replaced it with what Hillary called deplorable, an adjective the right wore with pride.  On the left are the well educated, civil, open-minded, fair, but apparently arrogant and condescending, multi-racial, multi-gendered varieties of humanity. On the right are some stranger bedfellows: Christian Evangelical, alt-thinking, frightened, poor, uninsured whites, oddly coexisting subserviently with the wealthy 1% overlords. The right is a coalition of polar opposites.

We’ve created a new kind of class warfare: the reasoning class vs. the alt-thinking class. Most free thinkers understand a reasoning mind-set, while the Alt-Thinking crowd takes some exploration to suss out. We really need to understand them better. We should be the adults in this situation and make the effort to find a resolution. We can’t just say, ‘we’re here to help you poor deluded people’ because, you see, they tend to stick up for their version of the facts. They would say the same thing right back to us, so it’s a pointless approach.

We must find a way to accept the adherence to irrationality, and prejudice, then give it the respect it deserves. This shouldn’t be too hard since we do it every day: the Mormons get a planet when they die, Muslims get a slew of virgin wives when martyred, and Christians, well, they’re monotheists with three gods in one, somehow unlike Hindus with multiple gods. There’s Rastafari with their un-cut hair and use of ganja whom I enjoy. I mean the Rasta not the ganja of course, although once in a while… but you get the point. If we can muster the fortitude to deal with this sometimes fanatic array of ‘mystery’ then we should be able to cope with the alt-right’s alt-reality.

Perhaps a ‘bubble’ metaphor is needed: if we think of followers of these mystery-based belief systems and bigoted entities as living in a bubble we can visualize the situation better. In a group, say at church, they are encompassed by a big bubble. When apart from the group they wear a smaller version of the bubble around their head. The bubbles of each group are decorated with the appropriate imagery; for example Christians use the symbol of an ancient torture device that one-third of their god(s) didn’t really die on – the cross. Bigots use a differently shaped cross – the swastika. Now, there are some people who don’t wear bubbles at all – those without mystery-based ideologies or prejudice.

Non-Theists and rational free thinkers breath the air without the filter of a bubble. They are free from the distortions of the interfacing film of a bubble. Their air is fresh and every scent and sound and sight is clear and direct. Nothing intercedes with their perception. That individual is not bound to a dogma nor restricted to another’s code.

So, a typical gathering of people includes a variety of bubble-wearing people and a variety of non-bubbled folks too. We all seem to get along fairly well in the collaborative environment. Work situations like corporations or the service industry have the bubble people suppress enough of the distinctive elements of the bubble to prevent it from interfering with the task at hand. It needn’t be removed completely to work together. This is where the problem occurs in our current political crisis.

With Trump in charge the more marginal of the bubble people feel emboldened. They wear their distinctive elements with pride, and no longer feel the need to take the societal steps necessary to coexist collaboratively. One journalist observed a proliferation of anti-gay language and hateful attitudes in the smallish crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Hate crimes against Jews and others are on the rise nationwide.

I personally believe that truth is not an absolute thing.  There is, however, a zeitgeist of shared understanding amongst the collaborative members of society. It is the closest thing we have to comprehend “truth,” the working principles and facts of life and knowledge, if you will. This “truth” is a living abstraction that changes as life and knowledge expand and grow. Free Thinkers are comfortable in this abstraction as are those bubble-wearing people who work collaboratively.

The alt-right/alt-fact/alt-reality crowd has been actively working in opposition to this zeitgeist. They don’t intend to collaborate or even tolerate. They are Dominionist entitled to dominate because it says so in the first chapter of Genesis. Trump has been merely a convenient stooge who could gather a sudsy collection of off-beat bubble groups large enough to win power. Christians sold their soul to this devil in a faustian bargain, because they wanted power obsessively.

Evangelicals have had a long row to hoe to get here. I remember in the early eighties when they were giving their pious spokesmen elementary advice such as, ‘don’t wear white socks with black or brown dress shoes, it makes you look like a hick.’ They are still hicks in dress socks now, but their persistence paid off. Once that buffoon devil, Trump, is gone, Pence, who wears the bubble of Dominion Theology, will ascend and he will act accordingly.

Is there a way for truth and alt-truth to coexist? Dominion doesn’t mean collaborate, it means dominate. It is the ultimate example of the description: authoritarian. If they succeed we will see a restructuring of society in accordance with their interpretation of Biblical law, Christian sharia. They are as serious as a jihadist suicide bomber while we are still blinking our eyes, astonished, and going – WTF?

So, since we are trying to be the adult in the room while the opposition is fanatic about winning isn’t it our obligation to match or exceed their fanaticism? The other choice seems to be submit, since compromise and collaboration are not part of their vocabulary. It’s time for aggressive action from our offense. Do we have one?

Ceremonial Deism and Alternate Facts

God, so prominently mentioned on our currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance, is an ambiguous term. It is so devoid of spiritual significance in either context as to be absolutely meaningless. But that doesn’t stop the atheist community from being upset by its omnipresence in society, nor does it keep the evangelical community from going ballistic when people try to take it away. Maybe we should relax about this. Maybe the degradation of this particular word is a good thing – let them make God bland.

A word looses its original meaning when it becomes overly commonplace, mundane and familiar; in this case the god we purport to trust on our pennies and quarters is just a slogan – “God” becomes routine, not special, just a word. It looses significance because of rote repetition. Ceremonial Deism is the legal word-of-art that excuses this phenomenon. The legal system invokes this theory to justify the use of a generic god in secular public life, thereby, bypassing the constitutional establishment of government religion. The courts created what Trump’s folks call an alternate fact version of God. When god is mentioned in public it doesn’t mean the God of any particular religion. It is ceremonial. It refers to whatever supernatural entity an individual subscribes to, and that is up to the individual, no one else. The alternate god no longer means anything specific so why ban it?

‘In God We Trust’ is a powerful sentiment for those who already have a clear idea of a god, but those with a secular perspective find it pointless. That’s the beauty and the intent of this shared delusion – everyone takes from it what he or she already believes. Franklin Graham believes the government publicly supports his version of a god, so he defiantly mentioned Jesus in the closing of his prayer at Trump’s inauguration. This had the effect of making Jesus generic!! Jesus was formally neutered of Christian significance by Graham’s act and made ‘ceremonial’ if the logic of the courts holds true. I am sure Franklin had the opposite intention, but that is the trap of alternate facts, if we put it on our money and in our pledge and justify its use through the removal of its meaning, then we are left with a shell. Christians can believe in this alternate shell of their faith and the followers of Zeus (if any exist) can believe the same thing. Everybody comes away happy. Well, maybe not the Hindus who might prefer the plural: In Gods We Trust.

Still the shared delusion is maintained. Humanity’s natural tendency to seek comfort in groups of like-minded people while avoiding the use of reason, is the order of the day. Nobody’s gonna look foolish due to a supernatural “belief” if everybody else is affirming their own irrational belief. The only people who don’t fit into this scheme are the people who don’t have an irrational belief, those who prefer rational exploration. But, their numbers are small and they think too much, so don’t worry about that complaint. At least, that is what the courts, the legislature and our president want. So lets give it to them!

generic

Let them create their semantic utopia. Let posters adorn each classroom with the milk-toast pabulum of trust in god. Let them force this word into the daily life of all of us so that we give it no more notice than a crack in the sidewalk. The more commonplace the aphorism the less significant is its message. Bumper sticker moralizing turns God into a greeting card message – all sentiment, no substance, and totally impersonal.

Look how willingly evangelicals abandoned their principals to get Trump elected. He hooked them into believing he shared the minimum, a ceremonial deist’s faith. “See, he’s just like a penny: in God he trusts.” (Although, he may not even capitalize the ‘g’in god, we don’t really know.) “He’s one of us. Let’s place our faith in him.”

Perhaps we could surreptitiously sponsor a new ‘religious’ cover for secular humanism – Ceremonial Deism. Its sole purpose would be to homogenize theology into a pasty-sweet, mind-numbing form of the narcotic: soma as Aldous Huxley presents in Brave New World. Appease the masses with the comfort of a shared illusion. Alternate facts taken to a theo- logical conclusion. ‘God’ officially becomes significance-neutral when anyone can interpret it as they see fit.

The Moral Value of Posters at Westminster High

The cross is probably the most ubiquitous symbol of human society. It’s held that status well before Christians began using it. It is simple, easy to make and to understand. From a swastika to a four-leaf clover, two lines crossing one another have symbolized innumerable gods, mysteries, theologies and political entities. There exists a cross with an anchor on the bottom and one with a head-like shape on top called an ankh. There is a cross with a star, a yin-yang symbol, a flame, a chalice, a dead naked man, a star of David, and even one that identifies an artist formerly known as Prince. Each of these diverse symbols holds meanings far greater than the simplicity of their design. Whole armies gathered around some of them and wars have been fought for them. Such is the power of a symbol.

Ask Christians if their cross is a symbol of torture and cruelty or a sign of love and peace. I’ll bet they choose the latter. If you ask those who endorse the stars and bars of the Confederate flag “What does it symbolize?”, you will likely get a muddle of opinions on the topic. I find it hard to come up with anything of a positive nature to say in its behalf; the connotations of slavery overwhelm any good it may represent. People fight hard to keep it part of their southern heritage in spite of this. Its significance regarding violence and oppression of vast cultures of people has caused its removal from many public buildings and schools.

New symbols appear in our midst all the time. From a protest march in Oregon to a classroom in Maryland you can see marvelous illustrations of a women of color asserting themselves in a poster series called “We the People” by the artist Shepard Fairey, the artist who made the iconic Obama poster. They speak of liberty and freedom and diversity. They have deep significance for the gender and cultures who are oppressed in our society. The symbols in these posters do not use the image of a cross. They are new, so they have no established place in our history as the Confederate flag does. They are simply portraits of confident minority women asserting themselves in our society. They represent the diverse multi-ethnic population of the United States struggling to survive. They connote an altruistic and moral point of view.

That school in Maryland, Westminster High School, has removed the posters from the classroom as if it were the same as the confederate flag. The stated reason for this is that the symbol was also carried in opposition protests to Donald Trump’s politics. The denigrating bias of Trump’s politics on women, minorities, poor folks, Muslims and people of color turns these symbols, the posters, into something tainted by politics. The posters provide support for these moral values that Trump has made too controversial for this school.

Steven Johnson, the school’s assistant superintendent for instruction told HuffPost. “The Confederate flag in and of itself has no image of slavery or hatred or oppression, but it’s symbolic of that,” “These posters have absolutely no mention of Trump or any other political issue ― it’s the symbolism of what they were representing. They were carried in these protests.”

So, by carrying a symbol in a protest, that symbol becomes invalid as a conveyor of moral concepts for society and our children? The symbol – the posters – expressed a moral significance so succinctly that is was used in opposition to an oppressive political ideology. The well-made symbols of clearly articulated moral ideals must be suppressed in schools simply because those symbols have also been used in political campaigns on the side of those who lost the election. What would Vaclav Havel say about this?

I’m sure he would recognize the technique from his time under Communist rule. He speaks eloquently about this very situation when he discusses, in a letter to then President Gustav Husak of Czechoslovakia that his government had chosen “the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity.”

So, if that school deadens the brilliantly stated evocation of an ideal that happens to be part of its own mission statement which includes preaching “tolerance [and] acceptance of diversity”,  then there will be uniformity and compliance and consequently, inner decay. The richness of life will be replaced with clip-art posters of similar words and the homogenization of young minds will perpetuate blandness and complicity.

What about the Confederate flag? Doesn’t Steven Johnson’s equivalency of symbols argument hold true. Well, if they plan on using that argument there are a ton of images they will need to eliminate from the school in addition to those posters. They can start with any version of a cross that is not Donald Trump’s Presbyterian cross and any other religious symbols, especially Muslim symbology. They can clear out most of the art history department. The library can remove any literature, well, some can stay – pro-racist alt-right stuff. Get the point? They also marched with the American Flag, should that be replaced with a cartoon drawing too!

Look, the issue with the Confederate flag is that it is a symbol of oppression and domination and that it harshly reminds everyone of slavery. It screams its immoral history. On the other hand, the Fairey posters scream the morally valuable ideals of acceptance, diversity, equality, respect, and religious freedom. These are American values that belong to no single political party. There is no equivalency.

America needs to wake up to the subtle intrusion of inner decay. The purpose of school is not the homogenization of young minds. It’s not blandness nor is it complicity. Education is not about deadening life for the ease of uniformity. If educators, and all of us, do not learn to recognize it while it is happening and bother to stand up to this intrusion then we can expect decay.