Gospel Disproof #35: Birthers

Here’s a Gospel Disproof that’s almost certain to be dated in a few years: birthers. The only reason anyone has for denying that Barack Obama is a US citizen is because they don’t want him to be president, so once he’s an ex-president, it will cease to be an issue. What will endure, however, is the way birthers illustrate the principle of “denial as a source of knowledge.”

Think about it: how could birthers possibly know Obama’s actual citizenship was Kenyan? None of them were there when (and where) he was born. So what source could they have for their “discovery” of his “true” nationality? Even if he were indeed Kenyan, there’d be no way anyone else would find out unless they had one of two things: an actual eyewitness who was there when Obama was born, or an actual Kenyan birth certificate. And birthers would be the last to try and hide such evidence if they had it, so their continued failure to produce any such thing is pretty conclusive proof that they don’t. Which means they must necessarily have absolutely no basis for claiming that Obama is Kenyan rather than American.

The only basis for their accusation is denial. They don’t want a black liberal to be the legitimate president of the United states, and this denial becomes “knowledge” to them: they know that he “must” have been born in Kenya, because that is what is required in order to validate their belief in the illegitimacy of his presidency. But notice this: these people aren’t stupid or immoral or technically even crazy. They hold down normal and often respectable jobs, they have spouses and families, they’re a functional part of society. But they “know” things that couldn’t possibly be legitimate knowledge, because it’s the only way they can reconcile their deeply-held beliefs with what they find in the real world.

People are like that. They can “know” things are true just because they need them to be true in order to maintain a fixed set of beliefs in an uncooperative world. All that’s needed for the first century to produce a Resurrection story is for people to “know” that Jesus must be the real Messiah, just like birthers “know” that Barack Obama is a “real” Kenyan. It doesn’t require that first century believers be crazy or stupid or dishonest. It just means they’re people, like the people we see today. Like the birthers.


  1. Hunt says

    It’s just so important for all of us to register the influence of our own biases and tribal thinking. For instance, I tend toward socialist political orientation. I literally have to fight myself to overcome my prejudices and objectively assess free market advantages and also failures in socialist thinking. During the Bush years, it was very easy for me to automatically assume that everything the Bush administration did was horrible, just because I dislike GWB himself. There are many people who deny global warming for the sole reason that Al Gore is involved in it. How insane is that? Unfortunately, this is just the way our minds work out of the box. There are ways to learn to think more rationally, but most people are so addicted to the little squirt of endorphin that they get by scratching their own prejudices, they never make the effort.

  2. msironen says

    I seem to remember birthers actually producing (ridiculously fake) Kenyan birth certificates and such in the “early days”, but not for some time now…

  3. Brian M says

    Excellent post, Deacon, as always. The whole range of talking points about Obama share this problem, being “truths” with no basis in reality. He is a “socialist” He is a “muslim” He wants to “Destroy America” etc. etc. etc.

    My only quibble…Obama is in no real way “liberal”. He’s pretty conservative.

      • kraut says

        Is that enough evidence?:


        The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism,” for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until “the end of hostilities.” It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.

        Such laws are the par for the course in totalitarian societies.
        Is that enough to illustrate the anti liberal and autocratic stance of an ex liberal?
        Add to that the continued existence of Guantanmo Bay facilities still are operational and under CIA control, the not rescinding of surveillance laws introduced under Bush, etc.

    • peterwhite says

      There are no liberals in American politics and no left wing. All you have is the extreme right and the center right. I spent most of my life living in Canada where there is an actual left which has a positive influence on political decisions.

      It is possible for Canada to have a minority government where a small party holds the balance of power. This happened a few times and the balance of power was held at one time by Canada’s most extreme left party, the NDP.

      The NDP leader, Tommy Douglas, let the other parties know that no legislation was getting passed until Canadians had universal health care. The people got what Douglas promised. I’m not at all surprised that the US is still in the dark ages with health care.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      My only quibble…Obama is in no real way “liberal”. He’s pretty conservative.

      I’d definitely agree with that, in a real-world context. I’m talking about how birthers view the world though. 😉

  4. F says

    Ha! I’ve never considered “denial as a source of knowledge” as such. Even though I see it operating all the time.

  5. Bob Jase says

    “People are like that. They can “know” things are true just because they need them to be true in order to maintain a fixed set of beliefs in an uncooperative world. ”

    Boy, have I seen that in action too many times! As a sanitarian I’ve had hundreds of people inform me that they know that is against the law to do (blank) whenever (blank) is something they just don’t like. And its impossible to correct them, even if you show them an actual copy of local ordinances, state regulations/statutes or federal law that doesn’t agree with their belief they will deny that what they’re being shown is real and accuse you of lying.

    One time I had to deal with a elderly man who insisted that rats were infesting his property from his neighbor’s property and he showed me the ‘rat’ his exterminator had caught. I tried explaining to him that rats did not have bushy tails, squirrels did, but he insisted it was a rat because he had paid an exterminator to kill a rat and that was what was killed.

    Another time it was a woman who insisted that the law mandated that squirrels & birds were only to be kept in public parks which were, according to her, supposed to be completely fenced in including from above. Of course she accused me of hiding that ordinace when I showed her the book.

    You cannot defeat deliberate ignorance.

  6. Jeremy says

    I really enjoyed this post. Nothing clever to add, just thought I’d say. Such clarity of thinking and writing, I’m jealous.

  7. sunsangnim says

    Following what Hunt said, I’ve met people who think that Al Gore came up with the idea of global warming. I remember a clip of Hannity referring to “Al Gore’s theories of global warming” (but I’m too lazy to go look for it and I really don’t want to listen to him any more than I have to). I think Al Gore did a good thing by trying to educate the general public about the science behind global warming. But I don’t think even he could have predicted the backlash. By attaching his name to the issue, he also brought with it all the hatred the far right has for him. It’s unfortunate, because it shouldn’t be a left-right issue.

    This isn’t to discount the power of the industry-led multi-million-dollar disinformation campaign. But there are many voters who are deniers not because they’re familiar with denialist arguments, but simply because Al Gore says global warming is true and he MUST be wrong.

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