Cynicism in the face of Idiot America

I have to disagree with Red State Rabble and his announcement of the demise of Intelligent Design. We’re seeing signs of a shifting of strategies, the fading of a few personalities, and a little confusion on the part of our enemies, but it is a colossal mistake to be predicting their end at this time. Intelligent Design was nothing but the mask worn by one of the blank faces of ignorant creationism, and all we’ve accomplished with victories like the Dover trial is to take a slap at the façade. We’ve made them briefly recoil, and at best what we can expect is a brief respite while they try to change slogans. Nothing has happened to weaken the foundations of creationism.

I guarantee you that there have been meetings at the Discovery Institute where they try to strategize and rethink how to apply their resources and work their way around the temporary setback of the Dover decision. If nothing else, they’ll evaporate away, and the same people will re-emerge in a ‘new’ and ‘different’ think-tank, shedding bad baggage and expressing a new version of the same old story. Is there one person who changed their mind about Intelligent Design because of a court case? Take a look at the ID blogs, and you don’t find the proponents shrugging their shoulders and saying, “well, I guess we were wrong after all”…they’re going to try re-branding and re-tooling and they’re going to be peddling the same old piss in new bottles.

The supporting base is untouched. Megachurches are growing—and they aren’t preaching skepticism and the appropriate evaluation of the evidence. Talk to your average small-town good old boy, and they won’t have even heard of Dover or Behe or Dawkins or Johnson or Miller…but they sure as hell know they didn’t come from no monkey. There has been no dramatic change in our schools, so that they are now proudly teaching solid, uncensored biology; teachers still know that if they mention the scary “e” word, there will be parents who come down hard on them, and administrators know that if they don’t kowtow to the fundies, they’ll yank their kids out of school and hurt their funding base.

I see little, hopeful touches now and then. But no one takes on the root of the problem.

Read Tristero and wake up to what we face.

The megachurches thus become part church, part shopping mall and part country club. One in Tacoma, Washington, even has its own Starbucks. Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston has a McDonald’s on its 111 acres. The Prestonwood Baptist Church, near Dallas, boasts 15 baseball fields, a Fifties-style diner and a food court. New Birth Baptist Church, also in Texas, offers web links to “antiques”, “dining” and “health and fitness”.

In addition to the megachurches, there are 31 “gigachurches” in the US, which are defined as those that at least 10,000 people attend every Sunday; 73 per cent of all these are in Bush-Cheney territory in the South or West. Some offer bookstores and health clubs on their premises. The Lakewood Church, yet another in Houston, describes itself as a “non-denominational charismatic church” and has a congregation of 25,000 every Sunday. It says it will soon have more than 30,000 people attending the remodelled, $73m former “Compaq Centre” that was previously home to the Houston Rockets, a basketball team.

What the opposition has been doing is building institutions. They’ve been consolidating huge pieces of the social structure and making them their own. Imagine living in a town where, if you want to buy a cup of coffee or get a hamburger, you have to go to a church. We’re becoming Walmartized and Christianified—you are a commodity to destructive, stupefying, self-sustaining cultural monopoly. You want to oppose that by crying to the courts? Go ahead. A little defiance from on high just mobilizes and infuriates them. You aren’t touching them where it hurts, at the community and belief level. You aren’t building your own institutions to oppose them.

Red State Rabble is right, that some of the trappings of the Intelligent Design excrescence are showing signs of going off the rails…but Uncommon Descent and Intelligent Design News and Views and the Discovery Institute (and Pharyngula and The Panda’s Thumb, for that matter) are irrelevant, superficial phenomena. What counts is that millions of people sit quietly watching the stupidity grow, and millions more actively contribute to it.

I haven’t seen any reliable sign that the idiotification of America is receding, or even slowing down. I do see signs that some of us are trying to reassure ourselves that the worst has passed, and I think that’s a dangerous delusion.


  1. #1 Matt Dowling
    October 31, 2006

    Think this all sounds bad? Imagine LIVING in the midst of it everyday as you make your work commute in NORMAN, OKLAHOMA. I like to think of this place as the middle part of the buckle of the bible belt. Being so close to the action, I do agree with Steve Reuland that the churches are hurting. The megachurches have become SO charismatic that they do frighten people away from the christian movement (at least here). My sense (at least from the sidelines) is that the whole thing is a big turn-off for many and might become a victim of its own success. As an aside, I’ll never forget that shot in “The Root of All Evil” when Dawkins was sitting in that megachurch “worship” service in Colorado Springs. Poor fellow…

  2. #2 jeffw
    October 31, 2006

    I’ll never forget that shot in “The Root of All Evil” when Dawkins was sitting in that megachurch “worship” service in Colorado Springs.

    I loved that. The expression on his face was truly unforgettable. I’d like to blow it up into a big a picture and hang it on my wall.

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