Monday, November 14, 2005

Last week was a critical one for Democrats around the nation. They celebrated victories in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey; rashly defeated all of Governor Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives in California—more a repudiation of the governator than a judgment on the wisdom of the measures themselves, I’m afraid; and, in Pennsylvania, all eight members of a school board that single-mindedly sought to force “intelligent design” into the science curriculum were trounced, leading Pat Robertson to warn the good people of Dover, PA: "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God …and don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there.”

I quote the Reverend Robertson at length here because he is the single best argument against Intelligent Design that I know of. ID is nothing if not an irrational reaction to what is perceived as liberalism’s threat—political, not religious in nature—and all it really seeks to do is lend legitimacy to the fear of The Other and of pragmatic inquiry into the nature of things that is at the core of modern-day evangelicalism. ID brooks no argument, spawns no debate, and calls for no further investigation. Its adherents argue, simply, that certain forms in nature are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must have been created by a "designer." That’s where debate ends, and prostration and praise begin, apparently. Is it a kind of desperate plea to stuff the genie back in the bottle, to not look any further into the mysteries that science is daily revealing to us—in genetics, physics, astronomy? Of course it is. Does it fit into a politics rife with xenophobia, homophobia, and fear-mongering in general? Very nicely. Because we fear what we cannot understand, and ID helps us—indeed, encourages us to understand nothing.

The God of Reverend Robertson is in many ways pre-Christian. He reminds me of the Gnostic demiurge more than any—pardon the expression—fully evolved Christian God. He’s the petulant child-god of Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger: reveling in his omnipotence, oblivious to empathy, he’s capable of appalling acts of evil. He would gladly wipe out a Pennsylvania town for its impudence in denying his existence.

There have been times in our history when fruitful debate of mortal questions was possible. Revelations of World War II atrocities sparked a brief period of painful discussion on the nature of God. Humanism, a term that has been demonized by the right, seemed an alternative to religious belief that allowed men to justify as godly their hatred of other men. And in an era when “God is in the White House” and ready to veto legislation outlawing torture, Humanism still seems like a pretty good alternative to me.


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