We watched “The Ghostbusters” the other night, and I was struck by a bit of dialog that kind of jumped out at me, even though I had heard it many times before. The Roman Catholic Cardinal character, commenting upon the ghostly goings-on around town says to the Mayor Character: “Personally, Lenny, I think it’s a sign from God;” to which the embattled Mayor of New York character responds:
“Well, what can I do? I can’t call a press conference and ask everyone to pray about it!”
What struck me was that in spite of the dialog in this mid-80’s movie, that’s precisely what we do now! At the behest of our elected representatives, we are asked to pray for rain, for the dissolution of oil slicks, for protection from hurricanes and floods, for the success and safety of our “brave men and women on the battlefield,” and almost anything else that would detract, in any way, from the myth of American exceptionalism.
A huge percentage of our citizens, perhaps a majority, believe the earth to be less then ten-thousand years old, and that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Over half the country rejects the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion that that the climate of the earth is warming, and mankind is the cause. Thanks to psudoscientific babbling by Deepak Chopra and others, supported by trash like “The Secret,” large numbers of otherwise intelligent people believe they can change reality simply by “thinking” about it!
Last weekend we were treated to a show headlined by the Nation’s leading flim-flam artist, calling for a return to an America that existed prior to the industrial revolution, if indeed it ever existed at all! Beck and his supporters were clearly advocating a retreat into the depths of superstition and fear. For all their blather about “restoring national honor,” what they were really talking about was restoring the tyranny of religion that was ended in this country only with the adoption of the Bill of Rights.
Carl Sagan, the late, great science popularizer, foresaw almost all of this fifteen years ago, when he wrote “The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark.” From the second chapter:
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. …The plain lesson is that study and learning – not just of science, but of anything – are avoidable and even undesirable.”
Does anything look familiar? These prophetic words were written over fifteen years ago, when the Internet, and even the cable news organizations were in their infancy. Sagan meant them as a warning – too bad we didn’t heed them! Too bad most of us don’t seem to care any longer whether or not what we believe is true – if it feels good, that’s enough for most. Our superstitions comfort us at times, but do we ever stop to consider that the limited benefit we receive from them costs us more than we can reasonably afford?
Is the fantasy of an afterlife really worth the tremendous price we are paying in potential medical advancement, learning opportunities, freedoms, human brotherhood, and divisiveness? When I read Sagan’s words, I see Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, and FOX news. I see Huffington post, Deepak Chopra, and Dick Armey. I see the Creation Museum, Dinesh D’Souza, and Pat Robertson. I see any institution, organization, world-view, or belief system that disparages human knowledge, reason, and the search for truth.
There is no way the United States can survive in any recognizable form, if we allow ourselves to be ruled by superstition and ignorance. Do we not have enough examples in the Muslim world of what happens to countries that elect to place themselves under regressive theocracies? Can we not see that there is little difference between the present in Iran and what Beck/Palin want for our future?
It may be too late to alter the course upon which we seem to have placed ourselves, at least the next election seems to be almost a foregone conclusion. I’m afraid that if our President, elected with such hope and expectations only a short time ago, doesn’t find the stomach for what would be a hell of a fight, and quickly, we don’t have much of a chance of escaping the fate the reconstructionists behind Beck have in mind for us.
My goodness, I miss Carl Sagan!