Maggie Koerth-Baker, ex-fundamentalist, has a fine post up explaining why fundamentalists are against seemingly innocuous things like set theory. It’s because it’s symptomatic of a deeper conflict with the modern world.
Instead, they see modernism as the opposing worldview to their own. They are all about tradition (or, at least, what they have decided is traditional). Modernism is a knee-jerk rejection of tradition in favor of the new. Obviously, they think a very specific sort of Christian God should be the center of everything and all parts of society, public and private. Modernists prefer ideas like secular humanism and think God is something you should be doing in private, on your own time. They believe strongly in the importance of power hierarchies and rules. Modernism smashes all of that and says, “Hey, just do your own thing. Nobody’s ideas are any better or worse than anybody else’s. There’s no right and wrong. Go crazy, man!” [Insert obligatory bongo drumming session]
I am hamming this up a bit, but you get the picture. Modernism, to the publishers of A Beka math books, is sick and wrong. The idea is that if you reject their specific idea of God and their specific idea of The Rules, then you must be living in a crazy, dangerous world. You could kill people, and you would think it was okay, because you’re a modernist and you know there’s really no such thing as right and wrong. Basically, they’ve bumped into a need to separate themselves from the almost inhuman Other on a massive scale, and latched on to modernism as a shorthand for how to do that. It doesn’t matter what you or I actually believe, or even what we actually do. They know what we MUST believe and what we MUST be like because of the tenets of modernism.
I understand this. They’ve been brought up to think the godless world is a deeply dangerous threat to everything they hold precious, and it’s simpler to just shut down any thing that has to do with it. It’s like somebody has been told that some mushrooms are delicious, and others are deadly poisonous, and they’ve been told that they can, if they’re very careful, tell the difference between them…and they choose to never, ever eat mushrooms because they don’t want to go to the bother of learning how, and they also don’t want to put anyone they love at any risk at all. So they’re very, very cautious about new ideas, because their social structure is both important to them and sensitive to external perturbations.
I can even sympathize with this conclusion.
If this sounds crazy … you’re right. It’s pretty crazy. In fact, it’s this kind of thinking, and my realization that it was based fundamentally on lying about everybody who wasn’t a member of your religious tribe, that led me away from religion to begin with. Ironically. But there is a coherent thought process going on here, and I want you to understand that. If all you do is point and laugh at the fundies for calling set theory evil, then you are missing the point. This isn’t about them being stupid. It’s about who they think you are.
Yes, I can appreciate that. I could be toxic to their worldview. I’m (and you all, too) are dangerous in that we could damage their equilibrium and send their children — and maybe even themselves — off into new patterns of thought that would repudiate all that they hold dear right now.
I read Maggie Koerth-Baker’s piece and had no problem putting myself in their shoes: if someone were making a serious challenge to my social and intellectual framework, if I were concerned that some blundering clod could come along and with some thoughtless nudge, knock it all down, I’d be protective and suspicious, too. I would be building fences around my world to keep those evil insensitive assholes out.
And then I read stuff like this summary of what Bobby Jindal’s education plan is going to do to children in Louisiana: the stupidity of arguing that dinosaurs were fire-breathing dragons who lived into the middle ages, the callousness of teaching that the Trail of Tears was an opportunity for Christian proselytization, the evil of putting a happy shine on slavery and the KKK, the equation of gay people with child molesters and rapists, the contempt for the environment, and I think…
Tear it all down.
They’ve built cages for themselves and their children, and have beliefs that harm others. I can see that they’re quivering in fear at the modernists, the liberals, the gays, the atheists, all coming to expose their ‘worldview’ for the rickety tissue of lies and hate that it is, and I say…no mercy. No hesitation. No apologies. Break it apart, and set those people free.
Pointing and laughing is just one step in the process of liberating those Christians trapped in their prison of lies. I can feel pity for them, while I let reality crash into their delusions and send them scurrying. They fear change, but they must change.