Fundamentalist Christianity: A Dangerous Force When it Denies
Rational, Scientific Thinking
Religious leaders hate rival sources of authority. 18th Century European Enlightenment thinking with its concepts of rationalism and science provided religious authoritarianism with that rival. America’s founding fathers, products of the Enlightenment, had the audacity to effectively say to Christianity, "worship all you want, but our Constitution does not need your influence!" Roman Catholic traditionalists and Protestant Christian bible-based fundamentalists still seethe over this rejection.
Then as now, zealous Catholics and Protestants claim to speak for God versus Enlightenment thinkers who boldly experiment with new ideas independent of Christian dogma. Today's clergy shudder if their members hear the Thomas Edisons of this world, whose invention catapulted America to prosperity, exclaim as he did that, "religion is all bunk!"
The June 22 International Herald Tribune carried an article by Peter Watson entitled "The Price of Fundamentalism." It made highly pessimistic observations about nations under the influence of religious fundamentalism and America's present trends.
Religious fundamentalism in Israel, the Roman Empire, China, and the Islamic world had very destructive results. Israel BCE was consumed with religious zealotry and alienated itself from its surrounding Greek and Roman civilizations. Israel's zeal for God got its reward in 70 CE. The Romans annihilated Israel.
The Roman Empire's unlikely demise came three centuries later. Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, blames Rome's fall in part on the ascendancy of Christianity.
Buddhist fundamentalism in China resulted in centuries of chaos until the 9th Century when the Song renaissance restored the Chinese civilization.
Islam's early success was spectacular. It produced many intellectuals and scientists until fundamentalism gained the upper hand in the late 11th Century leading to a millennium of backwardness, which still afflicts the Islamic world.
Christian fundamentalism has gained political ascendancy in America. Under President Bush, science takes a back seat to his right wing religious ideologues. In August 2003, the Government Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives assessed the treatment of science and scientists by the Bush Administration. The report, "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration" found many instances where the Administration manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings.
Former President George H.W. Bush a decade earlier stated, "Now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research . . . government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance." The current Bush Administration has skewed this impartial perspective, generating unprecedented criticism from the scientific community and prominent Republicans who once led federal agencies.
In February the New Scientist reported a survey in which fully half the scientists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they had been pushed to change or withdraw scientific findings for political reasons.
Fundamentalism's anti-science attitude pervades society. The science journal Physical Review reported in May 2004 that scientific papers published by west European authors exceeded those by U.S. authors in 2003. In 1983, there were three American authors for every one west European.
The percentage of patents granted to American scientists has been falling since 1980, from 60.2 percent of the world's total to 51.8 percent.
In 1989, America trained the same number of science and engineering PhDs as Britain, Germany and France combined. In 2004, the United States is five percent behind. European scientists now outnumber American scientists in citations awarded.
America is behind in cloning and stem cell research, now led by South Korean, Italian and British scientists. American fundamentalists seek to outlaw stem cell research on the arbitrary and totally unproven premise that "life begins at conception," a recent concept contrary to the teaching of St. Augustine and the allegedly infallible Roman papacy for some 1,500 years.
Fundamentalists use religious pretexts against scientific and cultural objections. A religious sounding "bumper sticker"-like rationality is usually sufficient to corral the pliant followers. Fundamentalism's dictates on issues are arbitrary and cleverly manipulated to appeal to the emotions of voters. Whether the issue is evolution, gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia or the environment, the strategy is the same.
President Bush's recent endorsement of teaching "Intelligent Design" perpetuates this same denial of science. ID proponents have never had an article on ID published in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. They do not conduct experiments that would prove or falsify their hypothesis. Their religious conjecture under the guise of science makes no useful predictions, nor can they model it mathematically. There are no research labs doing ID science because "Intelligent design" is not science, it is religion!
"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" is a profound quote by philosopher George Santayana. We used to be fearful that Communism might bring America down. History and current trends show the fruit of Christian fundamentalism. It is a far more insidious enemy seducing its gullible adherents with idle threats and false promises. Religious fundamentalists' objectives have never changed; they seek vindication for their rejection and want America's obeisance. Under George Bush, it looks like history is repeating itself. They will gladly lead our nation down fundamentalism's proven path of destruction, all in the name of their God!
Lee Salisbury is a former evangelical preacher, founder of the Critical Thinking Club of Minnesota, and writes for www.axisoflogic.com and www.dissendentvoice.org.
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