I rarely talk politics here, but I received this email from a cousin the other day:
According to the Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuassive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal…. the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destory everything. Is it OBAMA??
The email itself, unfortunately, isn’t out of the ordinary; many of my family members believe we’re in the End Times. What made this one unique is that the Washington Post has an article up about my hometown (Findlay, Ohio, “Flag City USA”) discussing this phenomenon; more after the jump.
First, a few things about Findlay. As noted in the article, it’s a “Rust Belt town of 40,000” in northwest Ohio, built up during the gas and oil boom of the late 19th century. Marathon Oil was long headquartered in Findlay, as is Cooper Tire and Rubber. It’s largely blue collar, and overwhelmingly conservative. Republican Congressman Mike Oxley was Findlay’s representative for almost 25 years, and rarely was a democratic contender even close to competitive. (Wikipedia notes that 2004 was the “most difficult reelection campaign of his career” wherein he won 59% of the vote. That same year John Kerry won only 34% of the vote in the district). It’s a tough place to be a progressive, and a tough place to be a part of the, shall we say, reality-based community when you’re faced with things like this:
On the television in his living room, Peterman has watched enough news and campaign advertisements to hear the truth: Sen. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, is a Christian family man with a track record of public service. But on the Internet, in his grocery store, at his neighbor’s house, at his son’s auto shop, Peterman has also absorbed another version of the Democratic candidate’s background, one that is entirely false: Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“It’s like you’re hearing about two different men with nothing in common,” Peterman said. “It makes it impossible to figure out what’s true, or what you can believe.”
You might think that it would be easy to figure out “what’s true:” go to reputable sources and dig for yourself. The local newspaper–which is pretty right-leaning–has actually run articles discussing Obama and the rumors, but apparently that’s still not enough for some people when they’re bombarded with “evidence” to the contrary:
Does he trust a local newspaper article that details Obama’s Christian faith? Or his friend Leroy Pollard, a devoted family man so convinced Obama is a radical Muslim that he threatened to stop talking to his daughter when he heard she might vote for him?
While people like Pollard are, I’d wager, a minority even in conservative Findlay, they’re certainly out there in towns small and large across the US–and their voices are often louder than more moderate questioners trying to figure out what to believe, such as Peterman.
And of course, this struck me not only for the political aspect, but because it’s so similar to what I saw living there (and still see) when it came to science. It matters much less what any “reputable” sources say than what your friends and neighbors tell you. Yes, there will be many people–even in Findlay–who look up Obama’s record, who read his books as well as what others have written about him, and realize that their friends and neighbors are full of shit. Likewise, there are many who have looked at scientific “controversies” the same way, and come to the same conclusion. However, for that large chunk of the population that’s either too apathetic to examine the issue on their own, or whose “examination” of the issue consists of only finding sources who agree with their pre-ordained conclusions. The article describes one woman’s frustrations:
So far, those who have pushed the truth in Findlay have been rewarded with little that resembles progress. Gerri Kish, a 66-year-old born in Hawaii, read both of Obama’s autobiographies. She has close friends, she said, who still refuse to believe her when she swears Obama is Christian. Then she hands them the books, and they refuse to read them. “They just want to believe what they believe,” she said. “Nothing gets through to them.”
Students going door-to-door to talk about Obama were told they were “in the wrong town”–a sentiment I’ve been on the receiving end of previously as well.
I don’t think, however, that all is lost. While no amount of framing or contrary evidence is going to convince those who are so firmly entrenched in their beliefs that the facts no longer matter, my experience has been that there are more people who are open to a real consideration of the matter than articles like this one would suggest. However, researching a politician is one thing: at least many people believe that who they choose for office has a real effect on their lives. Whether evolution is true or not? Not so much…