At the debate on CNN the other night, Rep. Michele Bachmann went off on Gov. Rick Perry for his executive order to vaccinate pre-teen girls in Texas with the HPV vaccine. Not only was it a form of “government injection”, she later told the Today how that the vaccine caused “mental retardation,” telling a story that a woman had told her tearfully about what had happened to her daughter after getting the vaccine. Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to back up her claim, she went unchallenged, and presumably a lot of people believe her because, well, she said it.
This is how things roll in politics, especially during a campaign. Someone can say something — usually the more outrageous or untrue the better — and it gets legs. We’re told that President Obama raised your taxes and that inflation is out of control when in fact he’s lowered taxes and inflation is nominal. But it gets ink and pixels and therefore it becomes the orthodoxy of the GOP, and you cannot disprove dogma with something as simple as reality.
Andrew Sullivan took the article by Michael Lofgren about the Republican Party becoming a cult and tied it into his belief that the party has become a religion, complete with rituals and icon worship (vide St. Ronald Reagan).
[The current GOP] can only think in doctrines, because the alternative is living in a complicated, global, modern world they both do not understand and also despise. Taxes are therefore always bad. Government is never good. Foreign enemies must be pre-emptively attacked. Islam is not a religion. Climate change is an elite conspiracy to impoverish America. Terror suspects are terrorists. When Americans torture, it is not torture. When Christians murder, they are not Christians. And if you change your mind on any of these issues, you are a liberal, an apostate, and will be attacked.
And the zealous never compromise. They don’t even listen. Think of Michele Bachmann’s wide-eyed, Stepford stare as she waits for a questioner to finish before providing another pre-cooked doctrinal nugget. My fear… is that once one party becomes a church with unchangeable doctrines, and once it has supplanted respect for institutions and civility with the radical pursuit of timeless doctrines and hatred of governing institutions, then our democracy is in grave danger.
The Democrats and other reasonable, logical people are faced with the challenge of proving dogma wrong. (Conservatives like to counter that liberalism is a cult, too, with their own orthodoxy of baby-killing, government imposition on everything, and Teh Gayz. If so, they’re doing a comparatively lousy job of evangelism.) When Gov. Perry mangled his Galileo reference when talking about climate change, he touched on something that actually rings true: Galileo was nearly put to death for challenging the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church for stating that the earth revolved around the sun. Science and facts have no place in religious discourse if it contradicts the dogma, and the faithful will go to great lengths — even coming up with their own brand of “science” — to counter the prevailing non-religious-based theories. And the heretics — the proponents of reality — are in danger in the hands of the believers.
The lure of dogmatic orthodoxy is powerful and comforting. It fits neatly onto a bumper sticker — “God Said It. I Believe It. That Settles It” — along with “No Socialism” and “Keep The Change.” You don’t have to think about it, and life is uncomplicated. But thinking about it leads away from the church; you get all sorts of impure thoughts, like raising taxes might actually help the economy and that when we say “equal protection under the law” we really mean it.
Heretics may be shunned and even executed, but they are invariably proven to be right.