Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Scared and Stupid

Historians may debate the exact dates, but most designate the centuries between the fall of the Roman Empire and the invention of moveable type as the period in the history of western civilization known as the Dark Ages. It was a time when the Catholic church controlled everything from governments to the merchant class, it kept learning and exploration to a minimum, and the feudal class system became so entrenched that elements of it still linger today.

Well, if you liked the Dark Ages, you’re going to love what the Religious Reich is up to now.

Energized by electoral victories last month that they say reflect wide support for more traditional social values, conservative Christian advocates across the country are pushing ahead state and local initiatives on thorny issues, including same-sex marriage, public education and abortion.

“I think people are becoming emboldened,” said Michael D. Bowman, director of state legislative relations at Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Washington. “On legislative efforts, they’re getting more gutsy, and on certain issues, they may introduce legislation that they normally may not have done.”

It is on the state level “where most family issues are decided,” Mr. Bowman said. And it is there that local advocacy groups hope to build quickly on the momentum from the election when legislatures convene in the new year.

In Texas, conservative Christians are backing an amendment to prevent human cloning, a measure that would also block the kind of cloning used in embryonic stem-cell research. In Georgia, advocacy groups hope to win approval this year of two measures limiting abortion, after redistricting helped Republicans take control of the state legislature. In Kansas, conservatives have won a majority on the State Board of Education, which is expected to introduce changes this spring to the high school science curriculum challenging the theory of evolution. And in Maryland, some black churches have joined with a white Republican state delegate to push for a ban on same-sex marriage.

“People were mobilized during the election and they’re still mobilized,” said Judy Smith, Kansas state director for Concerned Women for America, which is working to put a measure on the ballot in 2006 to amend the Kansas Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. “We would be stupid not to act now. This is exactly what we had hoped for.”


In 1999, the Kansas board voted to erase any mention of evolution from the state science curriculum, opening the door for the teaching of creationism. That was reversed in 2001, after three board members who supported the move were defeated in a Republican primary. Kathy Martin, a newly elected member of the board who favors teaching alternatives to evolution, said the board would probably take a different route this time, like introducing the teaching of “intelligent design,” a theory that holds that the development of the universe and earth was guided at each step by an “intelligent agent.”


State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri prefiled two bills for the next session of the Legislature that she said “reflect what people want.” One would remove the state’s requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter with alternative theories to evolution.

“These are common-sense, grass-roots ideas from the people I represent, and I’d be very surprised if a majority of legislators didn’t feel they were the right solutions to these problems,” Ms. Davis said.

“It’s like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn’t want to go,” she added. “I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don’t want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we’re going to take it back.” [New York Times]

If you had any doubt that these people don’t mean what they say, Ms. Daniels’ comparing liberals to the 9/11 hijackers should wake you up. And the more they talk about bringing in such superstition as “intelligent design” to hard science makes you wonder if how much longer it will be before they start demanding that the National Geographic Society starts drawing maps that warn “here be dragons.”

The Dark Ages lasted nearly a thousand years. It was a time of unparalleled control by a theocracy, and the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and Apollo 11 haven’t completely put an end to them. The church knew that the way to keep total control over the populace was to keep them scared and stupid. It worked then, but let us hope that in the last five hundred years, we’ve learned a few things.